|Government agrees to implement early childhood mandatory education law in Arab sector|
|Written by Ruby Ong|
"We had the privilege of having [SHATIL’s] Shmulik as our lobby advisor. Without him, we couldn't have done it." – Somaya Haj Yahia, director, Bet Altufula Aljemila (ABC – Association Beautiful Childhood)
On March 29, the Arab residents of Israel's Triangle region achieved an important step toward greater equality. After years of struggle, the Education Committee of the Knesset demanded that the Ministry of Education implement the 1999 mandatory free education law for preschool children in four towns in the region as well as in Abu Ghosh, near Jerusalem. The original law was passed as a result of a multi-year SHATIL-guided campaign.
"We started many years ago to work on this in the town of Taibe," said Haj Yahia. "With SHATIL's help, we expanded our work to include three other towns in the Triangle."
Until now, the mandatory education law has not been implemented as it should be for preschool children in much of the Arab sector. Despite the legislation, half of the three and four-year-olds, or 3,200 children in the Triangle, have no access to pre-K education, which, according to Haj Yahia, harms their development and future success in school. An additional 4,000 children attend private, unsupervised and often substandard preschools, she said. In order to meet the needs of the population and satisfy the law, 106 preschools are needed in the Triangle. The Forum presented research showing that successful preschool education saved government money in the long run as children are less likely to drop out, become unemployed as adults or turn to violence and criminal activity. Proper preschool education also provides employment for many local women.
Following intensive lobbying, and strategic partnerships with Arab MKs and the Forum for the Promotion of Early Childhood Education in the Triangle, which includes all the Triangle municipalities, the Ministry agreed to act on the legislation next year in the four Triangle communities as well as in Abu Ghosh. They guaranteed that within three years, the law would be completely implemented in these five communities. The Knesset Committee will monitor the Ministry of Education's implementation process.
"We weren't in their thoughts at all," Haj Yahia said of the Knesset Committee and the Ministry of Education. "Now, thanks to our hard work and SHATIL's guidance, we are on the agenda, we are in their plans. This is such a big success."
Heartened by their recent success, the Forum's next goal is to go national and lobby the government to implement the law in the entire Arab sector.