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Teachers’ unions vexed by state’s handling of preschool expansion

Children Kindergarten Drawing

Teaching unions Oelmek, Poed and Oltek on Tuesday expressed strong disagreement with the way the state is trying to implement its decision to expand compulsory preschool education to children aged four.

In an official joint statement, the unions said they are concerned that the state’s unacceptable practices will pave the way for corresponding practices throughout the entire public education system.

“To cover the needs arising from the decision [to lower preschool registration age] instead of proceeding with a plan so that every child has access to a public kindergarten, the ministry […] is sending children to private education, covered by subsidies,” the statement said.

The reference pertains to plans under discussion for financial support of small private preschools as an incentive for taking in additional pupils and giving the minister of education the authority to determine criteria for inclusion in the programme.

The unions’ position is that the ministry of education should proceed immediately with the conversion of private kindergartens into public ones, while also coming up with a plan for the expansion and/or construction of new classrooms for already public preschools, in localities where a need is established.

The educational organisations said in their announcement that they are calling on the government “to protect public schooling, ensuring its quality upgrade” and appealing to parliament to reject the government’s plans.

“The state’s duty is to support the common good of public education, first and foremost,” the unions said.

Earlier in October, MPs reached the decision to lower the age for compulsory start of schooling from four years and eight months to four years.

The implementation of the reform will be carried out gradually in three phases.

In the 2023-2024 school year, the age limit for admission to pre-primary education will be extended by two months, while in the 2024-2025 school year, it will be extended by two additional months. Finally, in the 2025-2026 school year, the project will extend the age of admission to pre-primary education by another four months.

The legislation provides that anyone who has custody of a pupil and fails to enrol them in pre-primary education commits an offence punishable by imprisonment for up to three months or a fine of up to €1,000 or both.

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