A Country So Proud of High Birth Rates Must Prioritize Early Childhood Education

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Daycare workers protesting in Haifa, in 2016.
Daycare workers protesting in Haifa, in 2016.Credit: Rami Shllush

Every time another incident of abuse in a day care center is reported, the public responds strongly. But after a short time the shock fades and attention is diverted to other, more “burning” issues – both because of the tendency of parents to adhere to the illusion that children are not harmed in preschool, except in very rare cases and in remote places.

But the problem does not disappear, and abuse in day care centers is just the tip of the iceberg. The entire system of early childhood education is in a deep and dangerous crisis, and it is becoming more acute. In honor of the new year, Israelis must demand a comprehensive treatment for this issue, which has metastasized to poison every group in society – left and right, religious and secular, Jews and Arabs.

Today, preschools for children ages 3 and up are under government supervision. Most day care frameworks for infants and toddlers are not supervised – and even in those that have supervision, the supervision is ineffective and the facilities lack the appropriate conditions for child care. The vast majority of caregivers for children in the most sensitive and critical ages of their development receive no training for it, and the training that does exist is inadequate.

There is no advance screening of applicants, no personality evaluation to gauge each person’s suitability for the job. Child care is one of the hardest and most important jobs there is, but it is viewed as a babysitter service for working mothers, and not as an educational framework. This is in spite of research that proves the first three years of life are critical for healthy and proper development.

It has been proved that the ratio of children per caregiver, and the total number of children in the group, are the most critical factors in determining the overall quality of care. Israel is far behind in both of these criteria. Israel also ranks low compared to other developed countries in spending on early childhood education. On the other hand, Israel is proud of its high birth rates, in comparison to other developed countries, and the percentage of working mothers in Israel is among the highest in the world.

This combination is causing a catastrophe, but most Israeli parents are in denial about its very existence: an intolerably large number of incidents of child abuse, harm and neglect, and the creation of an environment in which children’s rights are trampled every day.

The entire society has a common interest in the state investing in high quality early childhood education, and ensuring that it is available to all. The Wild West of early childhood education must be corrected as soon as possible, and dealing with it must be given high priority.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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