Early Childhood Education Frameworks in Israel in International Comparison: Participation Rates, Maternal Employment, Quality Indices, and Future Achievements
Author: Dana Vaknin Policy Research

Executive Summary

This study presents data on the characteristics of early childhood education frameworks in Israel in comparison to other OECD countries, as well as their impact on children’s later academic achievements. It is particularly important to pay attention to these trends because Israel’s fertility is the highest in the OECD, standing at 3.1 (compared to 1.6 on average in the OECD), and the share of children ages 0-4 in the population is nearly double that of the OECD average: 10.3% compared to 5.8%, respectively.

Participation in Early Childhood Education Frameworks

Young children in Israel spend more time in early childhood education frameworks than their counterparts in other developed countries. This appears to be related, among other things, to employment rates among mothers to young children, the length of paid maternity leave, and the share of the day children spend in these frameworks.

  • The participation rate of children ages 0-2 stands at 56% in Israel, in comparison to 35% on average in the OECD. Israel also leads developed countries in the percentage of children below age one participating in early childhood education frameworks: 31% compared to 9% on average in the OECD.
  • The participation rate of children ages 3-5 is also particularly high in Israel, standing at 99% in 2017, compared to an OECD average of 87%.
  • Unlike in other developed countries where the employment rate of mothers to 0-2-year-olds is lower than for mothers of 3-5-year-olds, employment rates in Israel are quite similar – 70% and 75%, respectively.
  • Israel’s maternity benefits over a woman’s lifetime are relatively generous. While the length of paid and unpaid maternity leave is lower than in other developed countries – 15 weeks of paid leave compared to an average of 18 in the OECD – Israel’s benefit covers 100% of salary, instead of partial salary as in many OECD countries.
  • The author estimates that Israeli children spend 30-40 hours a week in early childhood frameworks, while other estimates reach 50 hours. Any of these estimates show a particularly high number of hours per week in comparison to other OECD countries.
  • Despite Israeli children’s high participation rates in early childhood frameworks, only 25% of children under the age of three were in frameworks supervised by the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services, whereas 75% were in private frameworks or at home.

Quality Indices for Early Childhood Education Frameworks

Israel’s performance on quality indices for early childhood frameworks are worrying compared to a number of other developed countries. The quality of early childhood frameworks is generally evaluated as a function of the child-staff ratio, the educational and training level of the staff, and “process quality” – the quality of the educational processes that take place in the frameworks. The author analyzed results of the 2018 TALIS survey (Teaching and Learning International Survey) to evaluate Israel’s performance on these indices relative to other countries that participated in the survey – Denmark, Chile, Germany, Iceland, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, and Norway.

  • The child-staff ratio in Israeli kindergartens – both Hebrew- and Arabic-speaking – is high compared to other developed countries: Israel has 50% more children and 23% less staff than the average in the comparison countries.
  • Among the staff, Israel has the highest share of kindergarten aides (45%) and the lowest share of kindergarten teachers (34%) of any of the comparison countries.
  • While an impressive 95% of kindergarten teachers in Israel are graduates of higher education, nearly 70% of kindergarten aides have a high school education or lower. Only 25% of kindergarten staff in the comparison countries have education levels of high school education or lower.
  • The average seniority among kindergarten staff in Israel stands at 10 years and is low relative to the comparison countries. There is a substantial gap between the seniority of staff in Hebrew- and Arabic-speaking kindergartens: 11 and 7 years, respectively.

Public expenditure on early childhood frameworks is another important measure to evaluate, given that the academic literature shows that educational interventions and investment in the first years of life yield the greatest economic and educational returns.

  • Public investment on early childcare for ages 0-2 in Israel is among the lowest in the OECD countries.
  • Public spending in Israel for ages 3-5 is higher, but is still among the lowest in the developed countries.

Early Childhood Frameworks and Future Achievements

Studies show that children from low socioeconomic backgrounds may benefit more in terms of cognitive development from participating in early childhood education frameworks, but are less likely to be in such frameworks for over two years. The academic literature shows that the number of years children spend in early childhood education frameworks is a strong predictor of later academic achievement.

  • Inequality between socioeconomic strata in participating in early childhood frameworks for more than two years is low in Israel compared to other countries: 87% of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and 94% from high socioeconomic backgrounds were in these frameworks for over two years.
  • When controlling for the socioeconomic background of students and schools, Israel’s gap in PISA scores between students who were in early childhood education frameworks for at least two years and those who were not is among the largest in the OECD, standing at 39 points compared to an OECD average of 15 points.

With regard to the findings on future achievements, it is important to note that socioeconomic status is measured at age 15 and not during early childhood, and that the quality of early childhood education frameworks is not taken into account.

In future research conducted by the Taub Center Initiative on Early Childhood Development and Inequality, we intend to examine whether early childhood education frameworks in Israel promote children’s academic achievements in the short- and long-term, whether there are differences between socioeconomic strata and population groups in the age of entry into early childhood education and type of framework, and whether there are differences between the types of frameworks in the relationship to children’s achievements.

This literature review is part of the Taub Center Initiative on Early Childhood Development and Inequality, generously supported by the Beracha Foundation, the Bernard van Leer Foundation, and Yad Hanadiv.