In the past months, a lot of debate has been going on in Israel about providing government-funded preschools from the age of 3. Recently, the Knesset approved compulsory education from age 3. Most of the talk was, really, about "free" education, while the compulsory factor was treated as a non-issue - because, really, who in their right mind would keep a preschooler at home?
For a long time, I was confused, optimistically thinking that we are only talking about free, not compulsory, preschool attendance, but recently I've been disillusioned. In particular, today we have discussed this with some other mothers who live nearby (as you may recall from my previous post on home education, our neighbourhood is unique in the sense that most 3-year-olds are at home with their mothers).
So, the way things are looking right now, those who still keep their 3-year-olds at home are now trespassing upon the new law, but in reality parents are hopefully going to be pretty much left to their own devices until the children reach the age of 5 (well, at least in small communities like ours, I'm not sure what will happen in towns or cities). Among us, the moms in question, there was consensus that the new law shouldn't really make a difference to us. Those who have been planning to send their child to preschool/kindergarten next year, will do so, and those who intend to keep the child home for another year will do so as well, trusting that no one will actually knock on their door and harass them to enroll their child in school.
So what does this new law get us? First, in my eyes, it is yet another step in detaching mothers even further from their young children. In areas where the new law will be more zealously upheld, some mothers who would otherwise have wanted to keep their preschoolers home, will send them to school. And I'm not under an illusion this is the end of it:
MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), who chairs the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women, welcomed the new law.
“I welcome the Prime Minister’s full commitment to changing national priorities,” she said. “Education is one of the central obligations of any state to its citizens and it cannot be that so many families have to bow to the burden of educating their children while other families avoid proper education of their children forreasons. This is the essential first step in the revolution that would give free education already from the age of thee .” (emphasis mine)
Financially, the law will hurt those who don't benefit from it - such as people who do not wish to send their children to preschools. You see, to fund free preschool, they are detracting off the budget of other things. So ultimately, the government hand once more finds its way to the taxpayer's pocket.
On the other hand, I can perhaps imagine that this law might prompt more people to fight for official, easily attainable permission to homeschool, once those who could have "unofficially" kept their children at home at least until the age of 5 will find themselves unable to do that.
The key word here, in my opinion, is choices. The education of children has always been the responsibility of parents, and Jews have always had strikingly high literacy levels, even at periods of history when this was most uncommon. I don't believe there are parents in Israel who don't wish their children to be educated in the best way possible. Taking this responsibility out of our hands is like saying: you are inadequate, you are incapable, you don't know what is good for your own children. We do, and we will make you do things our way.
Regardless of what their personal educational choices might be, I don't think Israeli parents should take this implied statement in their stride.