MESHI: The first-ever textbook for edu-carers in Israel helps position them in their rightful place

Published April 19, 2023 – by Charlotte Davidi

How an institution, a book and some formidable women are transforming a society

With the mission to promote edu-carers and the field as a critical profession, the Israeli Institute for Early Childhood Education at Oranim College has been driving early childhood education for decades. Supported by the Bernard van Leer Foundation (BvLF), the launch of the first-ever textbook (available online and hard copy) for edu-carers* in Israel is their latest breakthrough as part of their larger educational programme: ‘MESHI’, which stands for Infancy Years Educators in Hebrew. The Ministry of Education, together with hundreds of edu-carers, celebrated this huge milestone at the launch event.

Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) frameworks in Israel (for children under three) have been a significant concern for years. A young child who attends a preschool for 4+ years, for which parents bear 82% of the cost, will not have increased reading achievements in primary school compared to peers who have not attended preschool (Taub Center, 2022), indicating the impact that lack of standards and professionalisation is having. Historically overlooked by the government, education and care for babies, toddlers and infants has developed in a haphazard way, without professional guidelines or policies.

It was only in 2018 that Israel’s lawmakers to take legal responsibility for supervising ECEC providers to the 0-3 age group, following public pressure including the BvLF-supported Coalition for Education from Birth. Until then, as the Hebrew saying goes, anyone with a pulse could open a childcare centre, where staff are mostly untrained and on minimum wage.

The Institute at Oranim College, led by Dr. Orit Dror, was determined to change that and MESHI is the culmination of these efforts.

*An edu-carer is short for educational caregiver for infants and toddlers (0-3 years old).

Credits: Planning by Steinberg // Fisher; Photo by Itay Benit

Knowledge is power

Edu-carers have one of the most important jobs in the world, educating and caring for children at the most formative time in their development. Hila Ya’ari is an edu-carer for 1 and 2-year-olds and, as a graduate of the MESHI programme, speaks about the responsibility she carries in her work: “It’s about being loving and responsive…to understand that it’s a very meaningful moment for children, a period that does not repeat itself and that what we sow there will remain”.

To transform the system for edu-carers, the majority of whom have not received any professional training in early childhood education, MESHI means that all edu-carers in the country now have free access to professional knowledge, structured in a way that it can be consulted as and when it is relevant and useful. The textbook is incredibly comprehensive; for example, on the topic of sleep hygiene for babies and toddlers, edu-carers have access to the theoretical knowledge behind the importance of sleep, practical recommendations on how to create a safe sleeping environment, and guidance on how many hours of sleep is advised per age group.

Momentum is catching

Alongside this huge milestone, the Institute celebrated another historic achievement in 2022 when the Ministry of Education started taking responsibility of 0-3 years education.

For the first time in the country’s history, the Ministry has started funding professional training programmes that have already reached 9,000+ edu-carers, where MESHI has become the national golden standard for education. By championing the MESHI material and the professionalisation of early childhood education, the Ministry is not only enhancing the environments for children’s critical development but also bolstering the position of edu-carers in society.

So, as momentum is catching, the women who have been pioneering efforts to promote the professionalism and standing of the sector are witnessing real change. Graduates of the MESHI programme share how the training and resource have enriched their lives, both personally and professionally.

As the MESHI textbook is mainstreamed at the national level, the country’s youngest citizens are benefitting from a meaningful shift in perceptions of and among edu-carers, who are starting to be understood as the high-impact contributors to society that they are. Written by 37 experts from different institutions, the textbook is 400 pages of insightful guidance covering all the important aspects of a child’s first 1,000 days—relevant for all different forms of ECEC frameworks.