Thousands of Bedouin Preschoolers Have to Stay Home Due to Budget Shortages

The Education Ministry says funding has been made available for only around 20 percent of necessary classrooms, though the situation is improving

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FILE Photo: A kindergarten in a Bedouin village near Dimona, 2017.
FILE Photo: A kindergarten in a Bedouin village near Dimona, 2017. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkowitz

About 4,000 Bedouin children between 3 and 5 aren’t attending preschool due to a shortage of classrooms, even if this represents an improvement over previous years, said the head of Bedouin education at the Education Ministry.

The ministry said that in 2017 the Bedouin community was short 1,236 classrooms; there was only funding for 331.

These figures were published in a report by the Knesset Research and Information Center. They show wide shortfalls regarding children’s needs, though also an improvement in budgeting and the construction of classrooms.

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According to an Education Ministry plan based on the five-year plan for the Bedouin community for 2017 to 2021, these gaps will be closed in the coming years by building 1,204 classrooms and 238 preschools.

One solution is to provide transportation for children living in unrecognized villages in the regions of Al-Qasum and Neveh Midbar. The Education Ministry has ruled that children under 5 should not have to travel so far as to need such transportation, and that children in general should not have to travel on unpaved roads.

According to the Knesset report, about 3,700 children between 3 and 4 use the transportation, but Mohammed al-Hib, the head of Bedouin education at the Education Ministry, says the number is actually much lower.

“There are parents who are interested in transportation to a preschool in another community, but the preschools are full,” he said. “We need cooperation from the regional councils and the Authority for Development and Settlement of the Bedouin in the Negev to let us build additional structures.”

The Sikkuy Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality recently criticized the fact that Bedouin children had to be driven significant distances to school. Experts on education and child development said this could harm small children in unrecognized villages, as well as the communities’ social fabric.

Sikkuy calls for the construction of preschools in unrecognized Bedouin villages as well.

The study also presents the latest figures for high school dropouts in Bedouin communities, where there has been an improvement over the years. The numbers indicate an improvement in the school system in Bedouin areas in the Negev in some aspects. But there are still difficulties, especially low rates of attendance in preschools and in grades 7 to 12.

For its part, the Education Ministry added that it provides transportation for preschoolers in the permanent Bedouin communities. In the unrecognized villages the ministry allocates portable structures.

In the past two years, a budget for 97 such structures used for preschools has been allotted, providing a solution for about 70 percent of children 3 and 4, the ministry said, adding that it was now working on catering to the other 30 percent.

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