Israel Encouraging Preschool Literacy - Just Not Among Arabs

Formerly nation-wide program to encourage kindergarten reading skills only dropped in Arab communities for the past two years.

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Officials from the Follow-Up Committee on Arab Education last week asked Education Minister Shay Piron to reinstate a pre-school reading-encouragement program which two years ago was discontinued in the Arab sector. The program, which is still running in Hebrew-language kindergartens, was cut "due to budgetary considerations," according to Education Ministry officials.

Entitled ''Madaf Hasefarim Habeiti Sheli',' (“My bookshelf at home”) the program has been instituted in roughly 1,000 kindergarten classrooms across Israel since its inception in 2011, but, according to the request, "was stopped in the Arab school system after a year by the Education Ministry, while it continues to operate in the Hebrew school system to this day."

The request, which was made in the name of the Arab local authorities, read, in part: “The program was successful in encouraging reading, learning one’s native language and acquiring reading and writing skills. It received very high marks from the National Authority for Measurement and Evaluation in Education and from pupils, parents and kindergarten teachers. It accomplished its stated goals of improving students' command of their native language, communication with parents and interaction in kindergartens."

The Education Ministry’s Hebrew-language website states: “The program’s purpose is to foster the culture of reading and promote love of reading among children of the youngest age in kindergarten, and their families... Over the school year, nine books will be distributed to the home bookshelf of every child in the kindergarten, and one kit per kindergarten. Kindergarten teachers will also receive ideas for enrichment activities at home and in the kindergarten.”

The books are funded either by the local authorities or the parents. The cost of the kit is on a sliding scale of two to ten Shekels, in accordance to the socioeconomic cluster to which the community belongs.

The Education Ministry’s website also states that "every month, the kindergarten’s staff and the children, in cooperation with their parents, will go on an experiential journey among the book’s pages, and after reading will engade in various enrichment activities both in the kindergarten and at home, aimed to foster reading comprehension... Throughout the year, we will encourage initiatives and projects based around the program. Community-wide, district-wide and nationwide activities about the books will be held in cooperation with television stations.”

Selim Khatib, the director of the education department in the Deir Hanna regional council, said that stopping the program in the Arab sector is a particularly terrible injustice because that sector's local authorities are usually poor, and its children need even more programs to encourage reading. “Everyone involved, from the kindergarten teachers to the parents and the children, were very pleased with the program during the year it was held.”

Education Ministry officials answered Haaretz’s query by saying that in the next school year "the program will operate in the Arab sector as well.” The Arab local authorities, though, have received no such notification from the Education Ministry, nor has the request from the Follow-Up Committee on Arab Education received a response.

Photo illustration: Children reading.Credit: Daniel Bar-On

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