A New Frontier for Israeli Research: Education Inequality and Early Childhood
Author: Tamar Friedman Wilson

On the heels of "Yom Hamishpacha" (Family Day), find out how Taub Center researchers are addressing an underexplored topic in Israeli educational research: early childhood education.

A discussion that took place in Knesset this past Monday among the Labor, Welfare and Health Committee and the Education Committee, raised the issue that, despite a bill approved last year requiring the establishment of a national council on early childhood by February 2018, such a council has yet to be established. According to the bill, the goal of the national council would be to create a long-term national plan for early childhood care in Israel.

This issue is not only being discussed in Knesset, but has been a topic of much discussion at the Taub Center as well. Principal Researcher and Education Policy Program Chair Prof. Yossi Shavit has spent much of the past couple of years calling attention to issues of early childhood development. This subject is important because of the worrisome convergence in Israel between the very high levels of educational and income inequality.

Studies in other countries have shown connections between the latter – that is, socioeconomic status – and early childhood development, yet the subject remains relatively unexplored in research studies in Israel.

In January 2017, Prof. Shavit gave a presentation on this topic to three deputy directors-general and a number of department heads at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). This meeting, which included six Taub Center researchers, created a lot of interest in the topic and led, in turn, to a follow-up meeting between Prof. Shavit, Principal Researcher and Welfare Policy Program Chair Prof. John Gal, and Udi Praver, Deputy Director-General of the Department for Governance and Social Affairs at the PMO.

A few months later, Prof. Shavit presented this information to yet another esteemed group – President Reuven Rivlin’s senior advisors. Just last week, Prof. Shavit and Principal Education Researcher Nachum Blass discussed the importance of deliberating over early childhood education policy in the Education, Culture, and Sports Committee with Chair of the committee MK Yaakov Margi (Shas).

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These meetings further called attention to the fact that there is a lack of data on the subject of early childhood development and its connection to later achievements and educational inequality in Israel. The Taub Center is committed to bringing this topic to the attention of the Israeli research community and is working to fill in the gaps and bring Israel up to speed with the innovative research happening in this area around the world.

In that vein, the 2017 Herbert M. Singer International Policy Conference, which was organized and moderated by Prof. Shavit alongside Nachum Blass, highlighted the subject through two keynote addresses given by leading international experts. Nobel Laureate Prof. James Heckman (and member of the Taub Center International Advisory Council), who is a leading world expert in social and economic questions related to inequality, social mobility, and discrimination, spoke about the connection between poverty, stress, and development in early childhood (YouTube).

In addition, Prof. Dalton Conley, whose research focuses on how socioeconomic status is transmitted across generations, spoke about the relationship between biology, environment, and educational inequality (YouTube).

Among the participants on the conference’s final panel – focused on policy implications – was Daniella Ben-Attar, Israel representative of the Bernard Van Leer Foundation, who shared her insights (YouTube) on what is and can be done in the field to address the topic while policymakers formulate long-term, systemic solutions.

Ben-Attar on early childhood education

In response to all of these policy conversations, Prof. Shavit, Prof. John Gal, Prof. Isaac Friedman, and Dana Vaknin are working on a literature review that brings together the existing research on early childhood development and educational inequality, which is being generously supported by the Bernard Van Leer Foundation.

The Taub Center plans on disseminating the literature review to policy makers and choosing a topic for exploratory, interdisciplinary research in 2018 that spans across the fields of education and welfare.

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