Israel's Future Preschool Teachers Warn They Will Boycott Free Education Program

Students at Tel Aviv's Levinsky College of Education signed a petition demanding smaller classes, more staff, and full wages for full-time work.

Some 200 students studying to be preschool teachers say they will not work in the government's free preschools next year unless class sizes are reduced, more staff members are hired, and they receive full wages for full-time work.

Students at the Levinsky College of Education in Tel Aviv signed a petition making these demands, and organizers say they'll gather more signatures and then will send the petition to the Education Ministry.

The statement came after the ministry called on third and fourth-year students to help it implement its commitment to offer free preschool education next year, by working in the schools. Free schooling for three and four year-olds was considered one of the most important recommendations of the Trajtenberg committee on socioeconomic reform, which was appointed during the social justice protests last summer.

The ministry plans on operating preschools with 30-35 children, one teacher and one assistant teacher per class. And according to its figures, the staff will consist mainly of 1,554 current students, who are now in their third and fourth year at education colleges.

But education students insist they cannot implement the Trajtenberg's recommendations properly or responsibly, under these conditions. They say classes must be smaller, and that each class have at least one head teacher and two assistants. They are also demanding that each preschool receive psychological assistance.

Smadar Zichroni, a third-year preschool student at Levinsky College, said, "It is necessary to have another assistant per class. I won't let myself enter a stressful situation and take on more responsibility than I can handle. The nursery school teacher must be able to come to work happy and calm, so she can infuse the children with happiness and tranquility."

She added that it's impossible to give 35 children the attention they deserve on such a skeleton staff. "A child comes to school in the morning and has a story to tell, something to show the teacher ... You need an extra staff member who can take children to the yard to read them a story, sing them a song, talk and listen. We're not only guarding their safety, we come to teach," said Zichroni.

Another third-year student, Yael Arazi, agreed. "In the current circumstances we would at best be babysitters," she said. "We also want full pay for a full-time job, so we don't have to moonlight to survive."

The students have opened a Facebook group and urge all education students in Israel to join their campaign.

The Education Ministry said it is not familiar with the campaign. "According to the ministry's policy, training teachers are employed as complementary teachers. Their pay is based on seniority and the scope and authority of their position."