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Enrollment rates in early childhood education frameworks is very high in Israel, but the quality within these programs is low. They are characterized by a large number of children per staff member, a low level of education on average for the support staff, and a notable lack of suitable state supervision for the majority of frameworks for children under 3. A new study by the Taub Center examines whether participation in early childhood education frameworks contributes to cognitive development and the relationship between children’s socioeconomic background and their participation in such programs.
The study finds that the longer children attend early childhood education the higher their educational achievements later in life, especially among children whose mothers do not have an academic education. Nevertheless, entering a framework under the age of two does not seem to contribute to later academic achievements, primarily among Arab Israelis.
Early childhood is a critical period for human development, and gaps developed during these years tend to persevere into adulthood. Therefore, educational intervention and investment in early childhood yields great returns, primarily among children from weaker socioeconomic backgrounds. Participation in high-quality early education programs can contribute to the development of abilities and skills that serve to improve later achievements – educational, economic, and health-related.
High-quality education for young children from weaker population groups can break intergenerational cycles of poverty and narrow inequalities in achievements between children of different socioeconomic backgrounds. A new Taub Center study conducted by researchers Noam Zontag, Dr. Yael Navon, Dana Vaknin, Liora Bowers, Dr. Carmel Blank, and Prof. Yossi Shavit, examines the impact of enrollment in early childhood education and care (ECEC) frameworks (up to age 6) on later academic achievements in Israel.
Half a million children in Israel are in unsupervised early childhood education settings; less than half of preschool staff have an academic education
The percent of the population under the age of 6 in Israel is double the OECD average, and the enrollment rate of these children in ECEC is high relative to other developed countries. In 2017, the share of children between the ages of 3 and 6 who were in an ECEC framework stood at 99%, and among very young children (from birth to 3), the enrollment rate was 56% (versus 35% in the OECD).
Israeli children spend a great deal of time in early childhood education settings – about 30 to 40 weekly hours – and the share of working mothers in Israel is high relative to the OECD average as well (70% versus 54%), with a strong association between the two. Despite the high rates, though, only a quarter of children from birth to age 3 are in a state supervised ECEC setting, and about half a million young children are in private unsupervised settings.
While enrollment rates for Israeli children up to age 6 are high, it is important to note that indicators show the quality of these frameworks to be poor relative to those in other developed countries. Public expenditure per child on education for this age group is among the lowest of the OECD countries, and due to the low budgeting, the staff-child ratio in these settings is low relative to that in other OECD countries. Moreover, preschool staff’s level of formal education is low relative to that in other countries – 39% of staff have a high school education or less (versus 19% on average in the other countries that took part in a comparative study), and only 46% have an academic education. Tenure in the profession is also relatively low.
For children from low socioeconomic backgrounds, enrollment in early childhood education too early harms later achievements
In this new Taub Center study, researchers asked whether ECEC enrollment differs across socioeconomic population groups and whether, despite the poor average quality of the programs in Israel, participation in these frameworks contributes to later academic achievement. Researchers checked scores on the Meitzav exams in math and science for children in Grades 5 and 8 (data from the Central Bureau of Statistics Social Survey, 2004), the PIRLS exam for reading literacy in 2016, and the scores on the PISA exam in reading in 2018.
The surveys used include data on ECEC enrollment, academic achievement, as well as a number of socioeconomic variables, including population sector, mother’s level of education, household income, family size, etc. The study yielded a number of important findings:
- Enrollment rates and length of tenure in ECEC are higher in higher socioeconomic groups, and higher among Jews than among Arab Israelis.
- Children between the ages of 2 and 4 who were in a preschool or public daycare facility scored higher on the Meitzav exams in Grades 5 and 8: children between the ages of 2 and 4 who were in preschool or public daycare facilities (maon) got substantially better grades than those children who stayed at home, were in home daycare settings (mishpahton) or who were in nurseries (peuton).
- Enrollment in early childhood education contributes to achievements for children from weaker socioeconomic backgrounds. This is seen most vividly in the finding that children of mothers without an academic education who were in ECEC for four years or more had significantly higher later achievements. In contrast, among children with mothers who have an academic education, the number of years in ECEC does not have a significant impact on their later achievements.
- Among Jewish children with mothers with an academic education, entering ECEC before the age of 2 does not significantly contribute to later achievements.
- Among Arab Israeli children and Jewish children whose mothers do not have higher education, enrollment in ECEC before the age of 2 seems to harm later achievements. This finding may reflect the low quality of ECEC for children under the age of 3 in the Arab sector and among the poorer segments of the Jewish sector.
Compulsory education from age 2 would be valuable, although not necessarily for children younger than age 2
“Enrollment rates in early childhood education are very high in Israel, mainly among the educated and more economically well-off, and more among Jews than among Arab Israelis,” summarizes Dr. Yael Navon. “We find that children who enter such settings have higher academic achievements later in their studies, although this is not necessarily the case for those children entering too young, that is, in the first year or two of their lives.
Additional important findings that the study uncovered are that enrollment in unsupervised early childhood education settings is no better than being cared for at home by parents in terms of later achievements, and that the positive effect of the number of years spent in these frameworks is particularly notable among children whose mothers do not have a higher education.”
The conclusion that arises from the findings of the Taub Center study is that participation in supervised early childhood education settings (preschool and public daycare facilities, which for the most part are supervised in Israel), contributes to academic development of young children. This is especially true for children from weaker socioeconomic backgrounds, where the average length of participation in early childhood frameworks is actually lower – that is, among Arab Israeli and Jewish children with mothers with low education levels.
It is therefore important to raise enrollment rates among these children, especially from the age of 2 upwards, where the most impact was seen. “In view of the study findings, it would be beneficial to invest in widening public education from age 2 and up,” says Dr. Navon.
Professor Avi Weiss, Taub Center President, explains that “investment in early childhood education has been shown to be one of the most beneficial investments available, with the potential to yield large economic and social returns to the individuals and the country. This is particularly important in a country like Israel that has so many young children. ”
The Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel is an independent, non-partisan socioeconomic research institute. The Center provides decision makers and the public with research and findings on some of the most critical issues facing Israel in the areas of education, health, welfare, labor markets and economic policy in order to impact the decision-making process in Israel and to advance the well-being of all Israelis.
For details, or to arrange an interview, please contact Anat Sella-Koren, Director of Marketing, Communications and Government Relations at the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel: 050-690-9749.