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“Early Childhood Education Finds Room to Grow” – The Cohort 23 Group Exercise

​The cohort 23 group exercise, which dealt with early childhood education, was presented at an event held at the Mandel School for Educational Leadership

​Is it possible to improve the quality of Israel’s early childhood education frameworks, and if so, how? And what would the Ministry of Education have to do to be prepared for a possible transfer of responsibility for early childhood frameworks from the Ministry of the Economy? At the request of the Ministry of Education, the fellows of the Mandel School for Educational Leadership’s 23rd cohort explored these questions in this year’s group exercise. At the end of the exercise, the fellows presented a document titled “Early Childhood Education Finds Room to Grow” at an event held at the school at the beginning of February.

The cohort 23 fellows examined three central aspects of early childhood education: the state’s responsibility and role regarding preschool children; early childhood needs and the quality of the public services currently provided; and organizational and professional aspects of the current system and the expected transition. To complete the picture, a brief review was conducted of the legal and budgetary aspects of the issue.

As part of this work, the fellows conducted a comparison of Israel’s early childhood daycare centers to other OECD countries. “Early childhood education (from birth to three years) in Israel has for years been the responsibility of the Ministry of the Economy, based on the idea that daycare centers were a means of removing barriers to women’s involvement in the labor market… The possible transfer of responsibility for early childhood education to the Ministry of Education provides a good opportunity for a re-evaluation of the objectives that guide policy in this area,” they wrote in the report.

The main claim made by the document is that, given the large socioeconomic gaps in Israel and the critical importance of early childhood for long-term individual development, there needs to be real investment in providing equal opportunities. The report therefore recommends prioritizing the improvement of the quality of early childhood daycare centers and educational frameworks, and selectively promoting access to these institutions among vulnerable populations, using socioeconomic criteria.​​​

Moshe Vigdor, the director-general of the Mandel Foundation–Israel, opened the evening with congratulatory remarks to the cohort 23 fellows and to the school’s faculty, and also conveyed the best wishes of the chairman of the Foundation, Mr. Morton Mandel, and of its president, Prof. Jehuda Reinharz.

“Your decision to examine the question of early childhood frameworks through the lens of one of our society’s biggest problems - social inequality - is a values-based decision, rooted in a world view that sees the state and the public education system as having full responsibility for reducing socioeconomic gaps and creating a more just society,” said Danny Bar Giora, director of the Mandel School for Educational Leadership. “You then succeeded in translating this world view into practical recommendations… This connection between vision and practice is the entire ‘Mandelian’ approach in a nutshell,” he said.

​Udi Prawer, head of the Policy Planning Division at the Prime Minister’s Office, spoke about the document’s main recommendation: “The strongest support for the idea of starting to deal with daycare centers is the increasingly prevalent understanding that early childhood is extremely important. Perhaps in the past it was seen in terms of, ‘We’ll take care of any problems [caused] later on,’ and it now seems that that is wrong.”
Ariel Levy, head of the Ministry of Education’s Pedagogic Administration, praised the document and said that in his opinion, too, the correct starting point for dealing with daycare centers is the wellbeing of the child. He raised other issues that need discussing: Should the Free Education Law be applied to these ages too? And what should be done about the existing situation in which parents who aren’t working are not entitled to subsidies for daycare?

Dr. Esther Adi-Japha, head of the early childhood track at the Bar-Ilan University School of Education and head of the school’s Child Learning and Development Laboratory, spoke about the training needed to care for infants. “There needs to be state support for training early childhood caregivers,” she said. “The training that exists today focuses on ages five and up. There is no organized training for ages three to four, or for under-threes. The state needs to invest in this, and there are very few frameworks active in this area.

“Every time the education system expands, or special programs are introduced, the main beneficiaries are the stronger strata of society, because they are the ones best placed to exploit the system,” said Prof. Noah Lewin-Epstein, professor of sociology and previously dean of the faculty of social sciences at Tel Aviv University, who researches inequality. “If we want to make any kind of change, there’s no doubt we have to look at it in depth in order to try to reduce the enormous gaps in Israeli society.”

The Mandel School for Educational Leadership group exercise, held annually, is an opportunity for the school and its fellows to contribute to thinking about solutions to key problems facing the Israeli education system. In terms of fellows’ learning, the exercise offers an opportunity to act on the founding assumptions of the school, according to which meaningful change requires walking the bridge that joins theorists and practitioners.