Early Childhood Failure

The gap between politicians’ declarations about the importance of investing in early childhood and the reality is too great. Learning conditions for children in Israel is far behind developed-world standards

A WIZO preschool in Tel Aviv, May 2016.
Eyal Toueg

Among the topics appearing in the annual Education at a Glance report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which was released Tuesday, is Israel’s low investment in early childhood education – up to age 3. Israel spends $2,713 a year on its youngest children, only 22 percent of the OECD average of $12,400 and the lowest among member countries.

According to the report, Australia, the country ranked just above Israel, spends $7,100 – 2.6 times what Israel spends. Top-ranked Norway spends $24,200 on ages 0 to 3, light-years ahead of Israel.

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These statistics and similar areas – for example, the lack of supervision over early childhood education and poor training of staff – were already known, but another year has gone by and almost nothing has changed.

Everyone knows that a child’s first years are crucial for his or her development, and the number of children per family in Israel is the highest in the West. Despite this, the state refuses to take responsibility for education for children under 3. The gap between politicians’ declarations about the importance of investing in early childhood and the reality is too great.

Years of neglect have led to a situation in which billions of shekels are needed just to bring the learning conditions of young children in any supervised framework (under the 20 inspectors of the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry) up to developed-world standards. Only 20 percent of the children in this age group are in such day care centers; there is no information about around 400,000 others. Families with money will find the right care for their children; not so the others. That’s the point where large gaps in education begin to develop.

After a one-day strike by the supervised day care workers, the Finance Ministry promised them two grants of 1,500 shekels ($418) each and to set up (yet another) committee to examine their complaints and recommend ways to improve conditions. But the one-time payment of 3,000 shekels is another expression of the government’s contempt for young children and the women who care for them.

Low pay, a lack of supervision and minimal training are the basis for criminal neglect. It’s much easier and more comfortable to focus on the few caregivers who get violent with their charges. This abandonment by the state is worsened by the fact that the responsibility for the education of these children is in the hands of the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry, after it was transferred from the Economy Ministry.

The sweeping recommendations by experts to put this segment under the Education Ministry was rejected – Labor Minister Haim Katz insisted, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acquiesced and Education Minister Naftali Bennett remained silent. They are responsible for the failure of Israel’s early childhood education.

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