Baby (illustrative)
Baby (illustrative) iStock

Israel is known as a country with a high fertility rate – an average of 3 children per woman, as opposed to 1.6 in the OECD countries. Due to this, the younger age groups are substantially larger in Israel than the older age groups.

Today, more than half a million children in Israel are under the age of three, and the population of very young children two and under is expected to grow by some 20%–30% by the year 2040. A new study by the Taub Center examined the participation of young children from birth to age three in educational settings during their critical developmental years.

In the study by Hai Vaknin and Prof. Yossi Shavit, the researchers examined for the first time the relationship between the participation of young children from birth to age three in education and care settings and their reading achievements in Grade 4.

The study found that, when controlling for family characteristics, the achievements of children who participated in early childhood education and care settings from birth to age 3 are the same as children who did not attend daycare. This is the case among Jewish and Arab children alike and no difference was found on the basis of social status. The researchers presume that this finding reflects the low average quality of such frameworks which until recently were, for the most part, not under government supervision.

Available data on educational frameworks for children from birth to age 3 attest to their general poor quality. The participation rates in this age group in Israel are among the highest in the world. Only a quarter of those in these frameworks, though, are in settings that are under the supervision of the government, like those run by WIZO, Emunah, and other organizations. Most children under the age of 3 are in unsupervised settings with little data available about them.

The TALIS study, which compares quality indices of supervised early education settings in Israel and other countries, testifies to their low quality – for example, the low education level of staff and the high number of children per class, as reported by the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs.

Moreover, the government supervision that was in place until recently for these frameworks for children under age 3 did not include pedagogical supervision, and there were no uniform standards for learning programs.

In the Taub Center study, the researchers examine whether participation in ECEC frameworks from birth to age 3 contributes to educational achievement despite the low quality of these settings, whether the length of time of participation contributes to cognitive development as expressed in educational achievements, and whether there are differences between Jews and Arabs, as well as among individuals of various socioeconomic levels.

The researchers used data from the PIRLS 2016 exam (the last conducted in Israel), that tests reading achievement levels in Grade 4 and included questionnaires completed by both students and their parents about their home environment.

The data include more than 3,000 students born in Israel from 159 schools.

The study finds that while the participation rate of Jewish and Arab children ages 3‒6 are quite similar (98% and 96%, respectively), for children ages birth to 3, the difference is significant: 90% versus 46%, respectively. In addition, participation rates in ECEC frameworks for ages birth to 3 are extremely high for children from relatively high socioeconomic backgrounds (as measured by mother’s education level and father’s occupation), yet there are no discernible differences in participation rates for those ages 3‒6.

Despite their poor quality, participation in frameworks for ages birth to 3 does not harm future academic achievement, although it also does not improve them

The Taub Center study controlled for characteristics of the children — age, gender, and their parents’ characteristics — mother’s education level and father’s occupation as indicators of socioeconomic level. The data indicate a clear difference in average scores on the PIRLS exams between Jews and Arabs, which, in part, can be explained by socioeconomic level. The share of mothers with higher education among Jews is almost double their number among Arabs. The same is true for the share of Jewish fathers with a free professional or managerial occupation level.

Among Arabs, the share of children of mothers with an academic education who participated in ECEC frameworks from birth to age 3 is double the share of those whose mothers do not have higher education (67% versus 36%, respectively). Among Jews, this difference is smaller (93% versus 88%, respectively). On the other hand, for both population groups, mother’s education level had no influence on the participation rate of children ages 3‒6 in educational frameworks.

The study also shows that after controlling for characteristics of children and their parents, the contribution of participation in an ECEC framework for ages birth to 3 to reading achievements in Grade 4 is not significant. This is in contrast to the positive relationship found between participation in an educational setting at ages 3‒6 and later academic performance.

“Until now, the relationship between participation in early childhood settings for 3‒6-year-olds and academic achievement has been studied; the same has not been done for children ages birth to 3, the most significant developmental period for children,” says researcher Hai Vaknin. “This study attempts to shed light on the relationship in this age group, and we found that participation in these frameworks does not contribute to reading achievements although it also does not harm them.”

“The low quality of these frameworks is a possible explanation for this currently, and if the quality was higher we could expect to see that their participation contributed to higher levels of reading achievement as has been seen in other studies. This finding is important in light of the number of children who participate in daycare in Israel and their enrollment rates in these settings.

“I hope that the introduction of the Supervision Daycare Law, which has recently been approved by the Knesset, for all settings for children ages birth to age 3, will bring about an improvement in the quality of these settings and, among other things, will contribute to advancing future achievements for these children.”