Israel to Bus Negev Bedouin Preschoolers to Nursery Schools, Kindergartens

Education Minister Naftali Bennett promises $13-million budget for Bedouin children aged 3 to 5, many of whom are unable to attend preschools because they have no way to get there.

Bedouin children play in the Tarabin Asana village, some three kilometers from the Dudaim dump site, the biggest landfill in Israel, February 11, 2016.
AFP

Israel's Education Ministry will budget 50 million shekels ($13 million) to bus Bedouin preschoolers in the Negev to nursery schools and kindergartens, Education Minister Naftali Bennett promised Tuesday.

Many Bedouin children aged 3 to 5 are unable to attend preschools because they have no way to get there, and Knesset Education Committee Chairman Yakov Margi (Shas) raised this issue at Tuesday’s meeting of his committee.

“I have good news,” Bennett replied. “We’re bringing a 50-million-shekel budget to bus children who aren’t managing to attend. The money is there; we need to see that it’s implemented on the ground.”

Over the past year, the committee has discussed this problem several times. Dr. Muhammad Alhaib, the ministry official in charge of Bedouin education, told one such meeting that around 5,200 Bedouin 3- to 5-year-olds don’t attend preschool. Most live in unrecognized villages, but the problem exists in even recognized towns.

On Tuesday, Alhaib told Haaretz that the planned busing service almost certainly won’t be fully operational when the school year opens on September 1, but he expects it to gradually expand over the course of the year to cover all these children.

“It’s impossible to say that by September 1 we’ll have solved the problem of children aged 3 to 5, because there’s still a shortage of classrooms,” he explained. But by the end of the year, he believes places will be found for all these children, including by stationing mobile classrooms in certain villages.

“The coming year will be more a running-in year,” but “more intensive implementation” will happen next year, he said.

The decision to provide busing is partly a response to a High Court of Justice petition filed in May by residents of the unrecognized village of Alsara and Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. The petition demanded that the ministry provide a solution for 21 Alsara preschoolers who weren’t in school, either through busing or by establishing a school in the village.

The ministry asked the court to postpone hearing the case while it sent the issue to its busing committee for discussion. The court acquiesced, scheduling the next hearing for September 13, when the ministry will presumably present its busing plan.

But attorney Muna Haddad of Adalah was not satisfied by Bennett’s announcement. “Even though the school year will soon begin, the prosecution hasn’t yet given us, or the court, a response that includes any suitable solution for the children of Alsara,” she said. “The money Minister Bennett promised to transfer might enable some of the children in the unrecognized villages to be bused to preschool, but for other villages ... the problem will remain in place, because the village roads don’t allow safe travel, so preschools must be established within the village itself.”