DataPoint: “Israel 2040” – Early Childhood

Why is early childhood a particularly critical time to invest in reducing inequalities? In this episode we talk with Dr. Naomi Moreno, Director of the Early Childhood Dialogue organization, and Dr. Carmel Blank, Senior Researcher at the Taub Center, about the accessibility and efficiency of early childhood education frameworks in Israel and about how much Israel, a country with so many children, invests in this policy area.

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This episode, recorded in Hebrew, is part one in our “Israel 2040” series, in which we examine the phenomena that will characterize Israel’s society and economy in about 20 years and are already being shaped today.

Research from around the world shows that the first few years of life are extremely formative in terms of children’s development and have long-term implications for their future. As Carmel Blank explains in the episode, “The type of environment or framework a child is in at ages one or two is related to his health, chances of finding a job, salary, and chances of being incarcerated at age 40, and even at age 60. So this is the most formative period.” Furthermore, Carmel continues, the research shows that investing earlier in life is a more efficient and effective way to tackle inequality. “For every shekel you invest in a one-year-old child,” she says, “you will have to invest double or four-times as much when the child is four, and you will have to invest a much higher sum once he is in school and university.”

Given the importance of young children’s environment and the stimuli provided to them, quality early childhood educational frameworks could help address inequalities in early childhood and level the playing field between children who come from strong and weak socioeconomic backgrounds. “Early childhood settings present a window of opportunity,” says Naomi Moreno, “one that even by kindergarten may already be closed, for children to reach the formal education system more prepared and with better emotional development.”

Dr. Naomi Moreno interviewed by Ido Kenan

Dr. Naomi Moreno interviewed by Ido Kenan

Yet while a relatively high percentage of Israeli kids are in some sort of early childhood framework, Israel falls short on several measures in comparison to other developed countries. Firstly, Israel does not perform well on key indicators of the quality of early childhood educational frameworks: the ratio of teaching staff to children in these frameworks is notably low, as are the education and training levels of the staff themselves. Secondly, frameworks for those ages 0-3 in Israel are not regulated, which results in there not being formal quality standards for these frameworks.

Thirdly, while Israel’s overall government spending on early childhood is relatively high, children make up a higher percentage of the population in Israel than in other developed countries, and the government’s investment per child is actually quite low in international comparison. These are all topics that have been explored in the recent publications of the Taub Center Initiative on Early Childhood Development and Inequality, established to develop much-needed early childhood research in Israel.

Another finding to come out of the Initiative’s research is that the Israeli children who need early childhood frameworks the most are in them the least. Carmel elaborates: “Children from more vulnerable groups, and this is not only true in Israel but also around the world, are the main beneficiaries of spending time in educational frameworks.” However, she continues, “in actuality it is the children from strong socioeconomic backgrounds who participate more in early childhood frameworks, enter them at a younger age, spend more time per day in them, and are in higher quality frameworks.”

The episode also discusses how the COVID-19 crisis further widened gaps in early childhood because children were not in frameworks and were instead home with their parents, many of whom had increased stress levels due to financial difficulties or the demands of working and child-rearing during the pandemic. Taub Center research has also shown that parents with higher stress levels turned to solutions like extensive screen time more than those with lower stress levels, and that families of lower socioeconomic status were more likely to feel increased stress levels during the crisis.

Did anything good come from the COVID-19 crisis? Naomi at least hopes so. “It’s hard to see anything good that has come out of this,” she says, “but I’d like to think that this shock accelerated relevant processes. I’d like to hope that the crisis emphasized the importance of early childhood.”

This podcast episode and the research on which it is based is generously supported by the Beracha Foundation, the Bernard van Leer Foundation, and Yad Hanadiv.

More on the Taub Center podcast

In the Taub Center’s podcast, DataPoint, we zoom in from Israel’s bigger socioeconomic trends and focus on real stories. Who are the people – the millions of data points – who stand behind the numbers? How do their individual journeys embody or complicate the trends we see at the macro level?

You can subscribe to DataPoint on iTunes, Stitcher, or in any other app where you listen to podcasts. Be in touch at podcast@taubcenter.org.il.

Thank you to the Beracha Foundation, the Bernard van Leer Foundation, and Yad Hanadiv for making this episode possible! For more information about sponsoring future episodes, contact michalp@taubcenter.org.il.

Thanks to the awesome team at Podcastico for editing and sound, and for all of their work to make this podcast episode possible.

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