Linguistic skills in children widening in Israel due to lack of equity


When toddlers who grow up in disadvantaged homes reach the age of two or three, they have already fallen behind their peers at the age of birth to the age of two-years-old, who come from privileged homes, in terms of linguistic advancement.

The serious lag in language development can be blamed on the lack of high-level, early childhood care and the decline of early childhood clinics in communities that are at a low socioeconomic level.

Instead of keeping these clinics in state hands, the Health and Treasury Ministries are privatizing them to save money, which brings about a lack of uniformity in these facilities around the country.

These sad conclusions were reached by researchers at the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Jerusalem – an independent, non-partisan socioeconomic research institute that supplies decision-makers and the public with research and findings on some of the most critical issues facing Israel in the areas of education, health, and welfare to advance the well-being of all Israelis.

The relationship between youngsters’ socioeconomic backgrounds and developmental indicators in their families has not been extensively studied before in a broad and representative Israeli sample, the authors explained. This is surprising because of Israel’s high fertility rate among mothers in poor areas and the high poverty rates existent among young children.

IRAQ AL-SHABAAB SCHOOL in Umm el-Fahm has been classified as one of the lowest-performing ‘red’ elementary schools in the country. (credit: Israel Center for Educational Innovation)
The study was based on the Health Ministry’s Family Care Centers’ database, which contains information regarding about 70% of children born in Israel between 2014 and 2022.

Positive relationship between maternal education and childhood language development

Highlighting the gaps in language skills among children from different socioeconomic backgrounds, the study discovered that there is a positive relationship between maternal education (the level of education that the person raising the child has) and early childhood language development.

The most worrisome conclusion was that these gaps widened with age and have increased in recent years and that this can affect the disadvantaged child’s life, academic achievements, and long-term life course outcomes for decades to come. The data presents a growing trend over time (from 2016 to 2022) in the percentage of children with delayed language-milestone attainment.

This suggests that with each passing year, the percentage of children delayed in reaching language milestones increases across all age groups.

THIS STUDY builds on an in-depth literature review recently published by the Taub Center entitled, The Roots of Disparity: Exploring Socioeconomic Influences on Early Childhood Development.

Authored by Taub Center senior researcher Dr. Sarit Silverman, the review examined the effects of one’s socioeconomic background on various domains of early childhood development.

In light of the study’s findings and the literature review, the researchers suggested several steps to promote policies aimed at early detection of language development delays and reduce socioeconomic disparities.

Maternal education is linked to delays in children’s language-milestone attainment – the higher the mother’s education level was, the higher the percentage of children who achieved language milestones on time.

The trend of growth over time was sharper and more pronounced among children of mothers with a primary and secondary education compared to those with a post-secondary and academic education. This finding indicates widening gaps between socioeconomic strata in Israel.

Dr. Yair Sadaka, director of the Health Ministry’s Child Development Institute in Beersheba and a researcher at the KI Institute and Ben Gurion University, commented: “The study’s findings align with the international literature, highlighting a notable rise in language and developmental disabilities in recent years.

“Importantly, the study suggests that these challenges can be explained, at least in part, in the delays in achieving developmental milestones, and are not solely attributable to increased social awareness of developmental disabilities.”

As for Silverman, she added that “gaps in language development can be identified between children from different socioeconomic backgrounds as early as the second year of life. To effectively address and reduce these gaps, it is crucial to understand the underlying mechanisms that cause them.”

To reduce the gaps in language development therefore it is essential to strengthen early childhood services, the researchers declared.

Since the enactment of the National Health Insurance Law in 1995, the operation and responsibility for Family Care Center stations have been fragmented among several entities. This fragmentation hampers vital progress and improvement, leaving the system’s future uncertain.

These clinics provide free preventive care to children from birth to six years old and play a crucial role in maintaining the health of Israel’s young population. The collected data at these clinics also makes possible the monitoring of trends, the promotion of research, and informing data-driven policy.

The team recommended returning to the previous healthcare system of centralizing the operation under a single entity responsible for all aspects, to ensure regular updates to budgets and personnel standards – in line with population growth and the adoption of new approaches based on the latest research.

This would ensure continuity of care and increase the likelihood that children identified with developmental delays received the necessary diagnostic evaluations and appropriate treatment, they wrote.

Quality early childhood education supports linguistic, cognitive, and socio-emotional development during one’s formative years. Ensuring access to quality educational and healthcare frameworks for every child, regardless of their socioeconomic status, will provide an equal starting point, benefiting both the children and society as a whole.

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