Head to Head / Panel head Shmuel Slavin, why did you recommend shortening the summer vacation by six days?
Slavin explains why shorter summer vacations are in the students' best interests.
Shmuel Slavin, a businessman who served as director general of the Finance Ministry and of the Social Affairs Ministry, as well as economic adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, headed the committee which decided to shorten students' summer vacation and alter the holiday calendar of schools. The Education Ministry accepted the committee's recommendation to start the school year on Aug. 26 instead of Sept. 1, but to add another six holidays in the school calendar so that the total number of study days is unchanged. The day after the Ministry announced its decision the country exploded with responses, some in favor of the change, but most of them, opposed.
Shmuel Slavin, have you been following the responses, pro and con? I am a businessman who deals with work; I don't have a lot of time to deal with responses. I see that they are a little hysterical, but it's nice.
Yes, totally. The truth is - well, it's not important.
How is it not important? This morning I picked up a newspaper, and saw that there were responses all over the place. But let's talk about substance, and not gossip. All studies from around the world show that when there are 60 consecutive days of vacation, it's very difficult for children to return to the study framework. Studies - and common sense supports this - show that children from higher socioeconomic echelons return more easily to studies because they are challenged intellectually during the vacation via summer camps, films, plays, and forms of study. On the other hand, children from lower socioeconomic levels are less challenged intellectually [during summer vacation], and it takes them a long time to collect themselves, and get back into a learning framework.
You definitely explained all of this when you agreed to accept the appointment to this committee, but what have you really done? You've shortened summer vacation by six days. Is that really a statement?
I accept what you're saying. If you're asking me, as someone who loves studies, and for whom education is his life, I'd say we should shorten the vacation much more significantly. At the end of the recommendations, I write to the Education Minister that after we get through this we should sit in another two or three years, and consider further shortening the vacation.
But I am a practical man. I wanted to shorten the vacation by 10 days - and to add five days to the calendar. Let's say that an elementary school has 220 days of studies in a year; [I wanted] there to be 225 days. And the teachers said to me - and I am always in favor of going to the teachers, and I don't expect them to start working more, because in order to do so they need to receive more money - and the teachers told me: 'Please, if you manage to get more money for this from the Finance Ministry, we'll be happy to back you.' I went to the Finance Ministry because I was once its director general, and I spoke with people there, and they told us that we think that this is an important matter, but it's not at the top of our priorities and we won't give money for it.
So, regarding the decision of whether we should shorten [the vacation] by two weeks, or whether the decision should be incremental, I decided that the time had come to challenge this rule about the first of September being written in stone, that we should do away with that. I hope that now that things have started to move, we will in the end work out a much better division of days on the school calendar; nothing bad will happen to Israeli children if they study more. I don't think that will hurt them. I think they will learn more, that they will receive a broader education, and that they will receive better preparation for life.
But right now, there has been a major reform reached with secondary school teachers. Wasn't there an opportunity to integrate this addition [of school days] on the secondary school level?
I'll tell you honestly: This revolution in the school system - in which they're saying that instead of 24 hours a week, there will be 40 hours - is a huge revolution. If it really works, and all that we've planned is really implemented, that will be a major revolution. I thought to dovetail with this reform, but I realized that the struggle involving the secondary school teachers union was so protracted and difficult. I'm very happy that they've reached an accord. What was important to me was to initiate a process. I really hope that it develops - moving away from this sacred date [September 1], and moving to a different summer vacation calendar. As far as I'm concerned, that's the right decision. The one who reaches the decision here is the Education Minister, and I'm very happy that he is taking important, even dramatic, steps.
You went to the Finance Ministry to ask for money, and because you were director general there you speak a common language with its officials. But it turns out that none of this is a priority for the Ministry. That's a very troubling statement.
What you're saying would be correct, if a major transformation were not underway in the school system. I'm very happy that the Finance Ministry and its budgets department have during the past two years come to understand the supreme importance of investing in education; and during the past two years, there have been major allocations. I am also a member of the [Council of Higher Education's] Planning and Budgets Committee, and during the past two years, it has added a lot of money to the universities, after many years in which there were no allocations.
The reform of secondary schools is very expensive, and it's very important. So should I come whining about a Finance Ministry that didn't give me money for this or that number of days? The [ministry] officials were forthcoming in two other educational areas, and I don't have any accusations to level at them because the financial resources are limited. So I said, that I would recommend to the Education Minister that in another two or three years, after we see how this small change has been absorbed, another committee (with me or without me ) should convene, and decide how to really lengthen the school year, and pay teachers.
Were you surprised by the responses?
I have elementary school age children - the children keep calling me to tell me that their peers are telling them that their father did some good or bad thing to them. In any event, the change is important. The school year dates should not be cast in stone. I'm not a political person, and [the responses] are not important to me. I tried to do the right thing.
You didn't say that you aren't a political person, for the time being.
No, no I'm not going back to politics. I made the rounds there, and lost interest in it.
You entered primaries twice.
Yes I did, but when they tell you that you aren't suited, apparently you're not suited. I'm done with that gig; enough is enough.