Sarit Silverman

Set aside free daycare (for now) and focus on improving quality


Imagine a plane with 200 seats. There are two flight attendants on staff, the pilot did not receive proper training, one of the toilets is broken, there are only 150 meals on board, and the plane has not been cleaned since the last flight. The airline then announces free flights for everyone. Would you get on that plane?

Since the past election cycle, there have been proposals to extend free education from birth to age 3. As a voter and parent of three children, I understand that this proposal is meant to grab my attention. The savings on daycare fees would have a direct impact on my bank account, but I can’t help but ask: At what cost?

Early childhood is the most formative period in a person’s life. Experiences in the first years shape the trajectory of the child’s development towards the future adult s/he will become. The brain undergoes rapid construction in this period that develops in direct interaction with the environment. The brain cannot grow in a vacuum: it needs stimulation and interaction to learn from and grow. For that reason, the quality of children’s environments in the early childhood years makes a long-term impact on their brain development and provides the foundation for their later physical and mental health, academic success, and productivity.

Daycare is a pivotal, formative environment where young children spend a large portion of their time. Currently, Israel falls behind in several international quality measures for preschool education, including poor staff-to-child ratio and staff-member training and education (OECD TALIS survey, 2018). There is less data collected on frameworks for children under the age of 3, but the same problems are evident in daycares as well. Yet, paradoxically, we rank as one of the highest in daycare enrollment rates and maternal employment rates among children under the age of 3 (OECD Family Database). The combination of high demand, poor quality standards, and a lack of qualified, available staff have pushed the system to the brink.

The proposal of providing free early childhood education is the equivalent of the fictitious airline described above providing free flights. It seems that for now, free early childhood education is off the table for this year’s budget, which, given the current state of the system, is a positive development. However, I hope this doesn’t mean the status quo will continue. If the government has money earmarked for early childhood, the smarter, more strategic investment would be to focus on improving the quality of daycare centers. This could include a push to professionalize early childhood education by increasing staff education and training programs and improving working conditions, such as increasing salaries. These steps might encourage people to take on the profession, would ease the staff shortage, and improve the quality of daycare staff. There are also several bureaucratic steps preventing municipalities from building new daycares, changes in these requirements can increase the number of available spaces where they are lacking.

High daycare fees (and the cost of living in general) is a problem for many families. However, the provision of a free service that can be detrimental to children’s development is not the solution. The high costs can be addressed by increasing the current subsidy program and creating a system in which smaller private daycares can receive accreditation and qualify for subsidies. The benefit of this is twofold: it would increase the number of frameworks under supervision and increase the number of daycare centers that provide subsidies giving parents more options and access to affordable daycare. Early childhood education investment is an investment in the future healthcare, education, and labor market 20 years from now. Let’s invest in quality daycare and provide our children with safe, warm, stimulating environments that promote healthy development that best meets their needs for today and their futures.


OECD TALIS Study: OECD (2020), Building a High-Quality Early Childhood Education and Care Workforce: Further Results from the Starting Strong Survey 2018, TALIS, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD Family Database:

About the Author
Dr. Sarit Silverman is a senior researcher at the Taub Center, where she researches early childhood and education.
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