The Education Ministry has not met the targets in its plan to reduce the number of Bedouin children who do not attend preschool.
The plan, introduced three years ago, sought to limit the number of Bedouin children aged three to five who are not in an educational framework to just 813 in the past school year, or 4 percent of this age group. Instead, the number of children reached 4,469, or 17 percent. In contrast, only 1 percent of Jewish children of this age did not attend preschool this past year, according to data from the Central Bureau of Statistics.
The data were collected at the request of the chairman of the Knesset Committee of the Rights of the Child, Joint List lawmaker Yousef Jabareen, ahead of a session on the issue held Monday. In response to the request from the Knesset, the Education Ministry said it has been conducting an informational campaign in recent years concerning the importance of sending the children to preschool, but some parents feel that children under five should remain at home under their mother’s supervision.
Preschool attendance rates are tied to a shortage of preschools in unrecognized Bedouin committees. The five-year plan for socioeconomic development of the Bedouin community, which the government approved in 2017, only budgeted for the construction of 151 classrooms in Negev Bedouin communities, while the Education Ministry has estimated that 600 new preschool classrooms have been needed in recent years. The funding shortfall is explained in part because the responsibility for constructing classrooms and implementing the budget is in the hands of the local authorities.
Some local authorities have found it difficult to locate appropriate land to build schools on, partly because of ownership claims on some plots and a lack of funding for the necessary infrastructure – which includes access roads, water, sewage and electricity lines. In addition, a large gap exists between the amounts the Education Ministry has budgeted for construction and the actual costs.
The ministry has put up a few dozen prefab buildings over the past few years for the residents of the unrecognized Bedouin communities to help relieve the shortage. Community rights advocates say these prefab buildings are not enough. The preschools are located in community centers where access is difficult, they say, and no such buildings were constructed in some recognized communities, so villagers have to travel a long way to reach a preschool. According to the engineer for the Al Qasum regional council, Irit Bendo, the prefab structures are not connected to the electricity grid and they have serious maintenance problems over the long term.
The Education Ministry offers transportation services to children living in the unrecognized communities in the vicinity of the Al Qasum and Neveh Midbar regional councils in order to encourage preschool attendance. However, the Sikkuy nonprofit organization, which works for coexistence between Jews and Arabs, published a position paper a few years ago that criticized the use of bussing. According to the group, the use of rides as a solution to the shortage of preschools is not appropriate from a “pedagogic, developmental and safety” standpoint and is not economically worthwhile. The group called for the construction of preschools in the unrecognized communities as well.
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The Education Ministry agreed that the use of busing makes things difficult for parents, especially during the winter. Parents avoid sending their preschool age children on public buses, which travel on bad roads and stop in unsafe places.
Jabareen told Haaretz that we should “be outrages over the deep disrespect for the situation and future of the students. Can anyone imagine thousands of Jewish students who a month and a half before the beginning of the school year have no preschool to go to?”
Salam al-Atrash, the head of the al Qasum council, blamed the Education Ministry at the committee session for not providing funds and avoiding responsibility for providing educational services to students from the unrecognized communities. “Every preschool classroom costs 2 million shekels ($585,000), while the Education Ministry allocates to me 1.6 million for every classroom about,” he said. “From where can I bring another 400,000 shekels?” Al-Atrash said that he has been begging the ministry for the past two years to provide classrooms inside existing service centers.
“The educational system in the Bedouin community is collapsing,” he warned.