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Kindergarten in Israel begins at age two and continues through age five or six, when children begin the first grade. In addition to government kindergartens, local governments and private and religious organizations also run schools, the latter two usually charging a monthly fee ranging from a few hundred to several thousand shekels. This chapter addresses discrimination from age three, when Israeli law obligates the state to provide free and compulsory kindergarten. At the time of writing, attendance rates for three and four year-old Palestinian Arabs were less than half that of Jewish children, and many of the most impoverished Palestinian Arab communities had no kindergartens at all for three and four-year-olds (often called "preschools"). Of the Arab kindergartens that do exist, many suffer from the same problems as the rest of the Arab school system: poor physical plants, less-developed curricula, and fewer university-trained teachers.

Preschool from ages three and four appears to have long-term academic and social benefits, including reducing drop-out rates.129 Education is cumulative, and, therefore, most Palestinian Arab children start out two years behind Jewish children. 

Attendance Rates

In the 1999-2000 school year, 359,000 children ages two to six attended kindergarten in Israel, 49,000 (13.6 percent) of whom were Palestinian Arab.130 In 1998-1999, the most recent year for which data were available, Jewish three-year-olds attended preschool at four times the rate of their Palestinian Arab counterparts; Jewish four-year-olds at three times the rate.

Table 19: Attendance Rates: Private, Municipal, and State Kindergartens 1998-1999131 [update]
Jewish students
Palestinian Arab students

Source: CBS, Statistical Abstract of Israel 2000, no. 51, table 22.11.

Some have argued that attendance rates are lower among Palestinian Arab children because of parental choice--that Palestinian Arab parents do not recognize the value of preschool education. However, among Jewish parents, the government has campaigned to raise awareness among Jewish parents about the values of preschool. Nabila Espanioly, director of the Al-Tufula Pedagogical Center, commented:

They say Arab parents won't send their kids to kindergarten, but when we open kindergartens, children do come. . . . They don't ask whether Jewish immigrants want to send their kids to kindergarten. They know it is important so they don't ask--they build kindergartens and the need is created. When it exists and is easy to access, then people use it. If I don't know about it, it doesn't mean that I don't want it.132
A father of three and four-year-old children from a village outside of Haifa told Human Rights Watch:
I pay for private preschool because the law doesn't extend to my village. I can because I work and my wife works. But most in my village cannot. If the law extended to [was being implemented in] my village, preschool would be free. Parents know about the law and ask. There are two Arab villages near the sea that got preschools, and they are sending their kids."133
State Funding

In the 1999-2000 school year, only 11.5 percent of teaching hours for government-run ("official") kindergartens went to Arab kindergartens.134

Kindergarten attendance from age three has been compulsory by law since 1984, when the age was lowered from five to three years old. However, no serious steps were taken to implement the law until 1999, when the Knesset passed a bill calling on the state to subsidize education fees for three and four-year-olds.135 The law is to be gradually implemented over a ten-year period, during which the Education Minister has the authority to decide which towns will receive funding. After ten years, all three and four-year-olds are to be exempted from preschool fees.

Although the government was not effectively obligated by law to provide kindergarten for children ages three and four until 1999, the government has long subsidized preschools for many Jewish children, especially for Mizrahi children. According to Israel's 2001 submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child: 

These data [on kindergarten attendance rates] indicated that although free education from age three is not implemented due to budgetary limitations, the State of Israel has attained nearly universal participation in pre-compulsory education (ages two to four) in the Jewish sector. The high level of participation in early education in this sector is a result of investment of resources in the construction of preschools and day care centers and the training of teachers and aides, which was accelerated in the 1970s in recognition that beginning education at the earliest possible opportunity promotes equality and equal opportunity. This recognition is also reflected in the efforts made to enable families with little means to send their children to such frameworks.136
Palestinian Arab children have not enjoyed the same support from national and local governments. The government's submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child continues:
There are a number of reasons for the differences in preschool attendance rates of Jews and Arabs. The availability of preschools in the Arab sector is relatively limited, and there is a lack of preschool teachers and teacher training programs. In addition, there is no structured preschool program. This is the result of the relatively small government investment in this sector, as well as of the fact that Arab local authorities have to finance the construction of preschools and cover 25% of the tuition for municipal preschools for children ages three-four. As noted, Arab local authorities have financial difficulties and a negative financial balance, and cannot allocate the financial resources necessary to construct preschools.137
Despite a greater deficit among Palestinian Arab children, to date, the 1999 law to subsidize preschool education has primarily benefited Jewish communities. After the bill was passed, the Minister of Education at the time, Yitzhak Levy, decided that the law would be implemented by the "priority areas" ranking system. As explained above, the rankings, which are based in part on geographic location and need, are weighted towards Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza and towns with many new immigrants, and include few Palestinian Arab communities in Israel. Towns with an "A" ranking would be the first to receive preschool funding. When the Ministry of Education released the list of initial recipients, there were 195 Jewish localities on the list. Almost all were settlements in the West Bank and Gaza; only three Palestinian Arab localities were on the list. Moreover, many of these communities were already receiving free preschool.138 In July 1999, the next Education Minister, Yosi Sarid, added to the list towns from the two lowest levels of the Central Bureau of Statistic's socio-economic scale because, he said, the list "included hardly any Arab communities."139 Accordingly, twenty-three Palestinian Arab communities were added.140 Nevertheless, in the 1999-2000 school year, most of the children who received exemptions from fees under the law were reportedly Jewish children already exempt for other reasons, for example, as residents of "frontline settlements," communities with national priority status, and neighborhood renewal areas.141 In 2000, the ministry announced that it would not add any children to the program because it lacked funding,142 meaning that the imbalances created in 1999 were not corrected in 2000. Thus the Education Ministry, in implementing the 1999 law, has neglected Palestinian Arab children, who have fewer preschool opportunities, who rank the lowest on the socio-economic scale, and who currently attend preschools at much lower rates than Jewish children.

Classroom Conditions

Palestinian Arab children who do attend kindergarten face classes that are nearly twice as large as those that Jewish children attend. And while the number of children per staff decreased slightly in Jewish education from 1998-1999 to 1999-2000, the number increased slightly in Arab education.

Table 20: Pupils Per Teaching Staff: Government Kindergartens 1999-2000
Jewish schools
Arab schools

Source: Ministry of Education, Proposed Budget for the Ministry of Education 2001 and Explanations as Presented to the Fifteenth Knesset, no. 11, October 2000, p. 144.

A major barrier to opening preschools in Palestinian Arab communities is the lack of a building, as funding for construction or rent is not included in the 1999 Knesset law. For example, at a school in an unrecognized village outside of Be'er Sheva that Human Rights Watch visited, two prefabricated classrooms had been brought in at the start of the school year, intended to be used for kindergartens for three and four-year-olds. However, because other classes at the school were so large, two additional first and second grade classes were created instead. A kindergarten class for five-year-olds with one teacher, an assistant, and thirty-six students were housed in one of the buildings. As of December 2000, the area still had no classes for three and four-year-olds. 

The nongovernmental organization Shatil, in a 1993 study, found that: "50% of [Arab] pre-school programs are located in rented facilities, most of which were not designed to serve this purpose. The lack of appropriate facilities was cited by operators of early childhood programs as one of the key obstacles in providing pre-school education. In the absence of financial support, establishing and equipping programs according to the directives of the ministry is not feasible."143

Although the 1999 law does not address kindergarten construction, the state has paid for kindergarten construction through other mechanisms, primarily in Jewish communities. For example, the Ministry of Housing constructs kindergartens in newly-built towns with more than 5,000 residents and in new neighborhoods with at least 1,000 apartments. No Palestinian Arab town or neighborhood of this size has been built since 1948.144 Jewish agencies have also financed kindergarten construction in Jewish communities. The government states in its 2001 submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child that the Ministry of Education financed the construction of one hundred Arab kindergarten classes from 1995 to 1996.145

Teacher Qualifications

As discussed above, the largest gaps between Jewish and Arab schools in teacher training and experience occur at the kindergarten level. Although the government claims that in 1995 it expanded training for Palestinian Arab kindergarten teachers, six years later the gaps were still great.146

Negev Bedouin

They talk around the issues but don't change anything. I have a daughter five years old. I thought last year with [former Education Minister] Yosi Sarid's promise she would go to [a government] preschool, but there were none there. There are private preschools but their content is weak. My daughter started going last year to a private preschool, but she told us, "I have more books, toys, papers, and colors at my house than at school." So we didn't make her go.

-parent, Laqiya (recognized Bedouin locality), Israel, December 14, 2000

Kindergarten attendance is lowest among Negev Bedouin. Out of approximately 14,500 non-Jewish children ages three to five in the Be'er Sheva sub-district in 1998-1999, only 5,084 Bedouin children were registered in kindergartens and preschools.147 A study by the Center for Bedouin Studies and Development and the Negev Center for Regional Development at Ben Gurion University attributes the low enrollment rates to three factors:
a) lack of kindergartens in both recognized and unrecognized localities

b) inability of parents to pay tuition in kindergartens for children aged 3-4 (nursery school)

c) parents' lack of awareness about the importance of formal education before primary school. The fact that most women do not work contributes to the keeping of small children at home.148

The lack of kindergartens is attributable to the Ministry of Education, and in smaller part to local governments. Although the Ministry of Education operated kindergartens for five-year-olds in every recognized Bedouin locality and twelve unrecognized localities in 1998-1999, it did not provide classes for most three and four-year-old Bedouin children.149 At the time of writing, the Ministry of Education operated kindergartens for three and four-year-olds in only two localities, Shaqib Al-Salaam/Segev Shalom and Tal Al-Saba/Tel Sheva, and one "mixed" class for three to five-year-olds in Kseife, Rahat, and Tal Al-Saba/Tel Sheva.150 Local authorities ran kindergartens for three and four-year-olds in three recognized localities, and nonprofit associations and the Islamic movement ran kindergartens in ten localities, both recognized and unrecognized.151 In unrecognized villages in 1998-1999, 167 three and four-year-old children attended kindergarten, all of which were run by private organizations, as there were no government preschools.152 "There is a severe shortage of compulsory kindergartens or preschools" for Bedouin children in unrecognized villages, the Israeli government reported to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2001.153

Children's failure to attend kindergarten because their parents are unable to pay tuition fees should be wholly the government's responsibility, now that kindergarten is to be free by law.

Shaqib Al-Salaam/Segev Shalom

The Minister of Education in July 1999 added the recognized locality of Shaqib Al-Salaam/Segev Shalom to the list of towns slated for free preschool. In October 1999, the municipality opened four classes--each a single room--for about two hundred children, about half of those eligible. The local government closed the schools on November 3, 1999, on the grounds that they were unsafe. The schools lacked fencing, playground facilities, and games, and some lacked basic furnishings such as tables and chairs. 154 The classes, averaging fifty students each, were also severely overcrowded. When the local government failed to repair and reopen the facilities, Adalah, on behalf of the local parents' committee, petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice to compel the local government and the Minister of Education to establish kindergartens for all four hundred Bedouin children in the locality. Following the issuance of an order nisi by the Court, which required the government to respond to the petition, the respondents re-opened kindergartens for two hundred children.155 It should be noted that at the time, the local government of Shaqib Al-Salaam/Segev Shalom was not elected; rather the national government had appointed non-Bedouins from outside of the community to a governing council.


129 In a fifteen-year study of low income children in Chicago public schools who attended preschool from age three or four, compared with children who began kindergarten at age five, researchers found that children who participated in preschool had a higher rate of school completion; more years of completed education; and lower rates of juvenile arrests, violent arrests, school dropout, grade retention (being "held back"), and use of special education services. The researchers concluded that the better educational and social outcomes from preschool were evident for up to age twenty. Arthur J. Reynolds, Judy A. Temple, Dylan L. Robertson, and Emily A. Mann, "Long-Term Effects of an Early Childhood Intervention on Educational Achievement and Juvenile Arrest: A Fifteen-Year Follow-Up of Low-Income Children in Public Schools," Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 285, no. 18, May 9, 2001.

130 CBS, Statistical Abstract of Israel 2000, table 22.10. Data exclude East Jerusalem. Ibid., p. (103).

131 Data exclude East Jerusalem. Ibid. In contrast, Dalia Limor, director of the Education Ministry's preschool department, stated that in February 1998, only 68 percent of Jewish three-year-olds (54,000) and only 5 percent of Arab children that age (4,000) attended kindergarten. By age four the rates rose to 90 percent in the Jewish population but still only 8 percent in the Arab population. Relly Sa'ar, "Bill on Free Schooling for Toddlers Advances," Ha'aretz Daily Newspaper (English Edition) (Israel), December 15, 1998, p. 3. See also "Free, Compulsory Nursery School," Ha'aretz Daily Newspaper (English Edition) (Israel), January 12, 1999.

132 Human Rights Watch interview with Nabila Espanioly, Director, Al-Tufula Pedagogical Centre, Nazareth, December 8, 2000.

133 Human Rights Watch interview with Basem Kanane, Haifa, December 3, 2000.

134 Ministry of Education, Proposed Budget for the Ministry of Education 2001, p. 144.

135 "Free, Compulsory Nursery School"; and Relly Sa'ar, "Free Education Law Won't Cover More Preschoolers Next Year," Ha'aretz Daily Newspaper (English Edition) (Israel), February 16, 2000.

136 Ministry of Justice, Initial Periodic Report, p. 262. As is the case here, many government publications still do not refer to kindergarten for three and four-year-olds as compulsory, although it is now compulsory by law.

137 Ibid., p. 304. See also Adva Center, "Early Education in Israel," Israel Equality Monitor, no. 3, May 1993, pp. 2-3.

138 Human Rights Watch interview with Dalia Sprinzak, Economics and Budgeting Administration, Ministry of Education, Jerusalem, December 19, 2000.

139 Aryeh Dean Cohen, "More Arab Communities Made Eligible for Free Preschool," Jerusalem Post, July 29, 1999, p. 3.

140 Relly Sa'ar, "Free Kindergarten List Expanded," Ha'aretz Daily Newspaper (English Edition) (Israel), July 29, 1999; and Cohen, "More Arab Communities Made Eligible for Free Preschool" (stating that thirty-three Palestinian Arab communities were added).

141 Sa'ar, "Free Education Law Won't Cover More Preschoolers Next Year."

142 Ibid.

143 Abu Jaber, A Survey of Early Childhood Education in the Arab Sector of Israel, p. 45.

144 Follow-Up Committee on Arab Education, A Report on the Education of the Arabs in Israel (1995) cited in Adalah, Legal Violations of Arab Minority Rights in Israel: A Report on Israel's Implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (Israel: Adalah, March 1998), p. 79, note 116.

145 Ministry of Justice, Initial Periodic Report, p. 305.

146 Ibid.

147 Center for Bedouin Studies and Development, Statistical Yearbook of the Negev Bedouin, p. (31).

148 Ibid., pp. (31)-(32).

149 Ibid., p. 74.

150 Ismael Abu-Saad, e-mail to Human Rights Watch, March 23, 2001. In the 1998-1999 school year, the preschool in Shaqib Al-Salaam/Segev Shalom served fifteen children, the preschool in Tal Al-Saba/Tel Sheva served 316, and mixed facilities in Kseife, Rahat, and Tal Al-Saba/Tel Sheva served twenty-four, thirty-five children, and thirty-five children, respectively. Center for Bedouin Studies and Development, Statistical Yearbook of the Negev Bedouin, p. 74.

151 Center for Bedouin Studies and Development, Statistical Yearbook of the Negev Bedouin, p. 74.

152 Ibid.

153 Ministry of Justice, Initial Periodic Report, pp. 312-13.

154 Aliza Arbeli, "Bedouin Parents Protest Preschool Closure," Ha'aretz Daily Newspaper (English Edition) (Israel), November 4, 1999.

155 Parents Committee in Segev Shalom, et. al. v. The Government-Appointed Council in Segev Shalom, et. al., H.C. 8534/99 (2000). See also, Arbeli, "Bedouin Parents Protest Preschool Closure"; and Moshe Reinfeld, "High Court Petition Claims 400 Bedouin Children Denied Education," Ha'aretz Daily Newspaper (English Edition) (Israel), December 2, 1999.

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