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The Education Ministry has canceled a planned expansion of the school computerization program it began two years ago, due to budget constraints.

The program, aimed at adapting the education system to the 21st century, was a flagship project of the previous education minister, Gideon Sa’ar. To date, the ministry has invested some NIS 500 million in it, including connecting 1,300 elementary and junior high schools to the Internet, giving laptops to teachers and some students, training teachers to use computerized learning tools, developing educational software and installing projectors in classrooms.

Teachers who had been slated to coordinate the program at the 150 junior highs slated to join it this year complained that after faithfully completing the training course last year, they have now been denied both the jobs and the laptops they were promised. Moreover, they said, much of this training will go to waste even if the program is restarted next year, since by then, many of the teachers who took the course last year will have found other jobs.

They also complained that they were never officially informed of the freeze: They first heard about it when they received letters of dismissal from their planned positions as coordinators.

Last week, a ministry supervisor finally sent all the fired coordinators and their principals a letter informing them of the freeze. In it, he wrote that he “expects the principals to find sources of financing to employ the school computerization coordinators.” The ministry also announced that it will reduce its contribution to schools that have already been connected to the Internet and received all the necessary equipment, meaning the local authorities will have to shoulder a greater share of the maintenance expenses.

But sources involved in the program said this would be impossible for poorer communities. “It’s not clear how weaker towns are supposed to finance a computerization coordinator or a computer technician out of their own funds,” said one.

The sources also said they’ve had trouble getting any clear information from the ministry on just how large the cuts will be.

One source said he couldn’t understand why the ministry is drying out a computerization program that has already begun operating while at the same time investing tens of thousands of shekels in buying laptops and tablets for the pilot of a different computerization project based on digital textbooks.

The ministry responded that due to a combination of budget cuts and a change in its priorities, it is unable to fund the planned expansion of the national computerization program. It said its new priorities are reviving vocational technological education and expanding other digital programs, including the digital textbook pilot and a distance learning program. Therefore, it has chosen to devote its funds to these projects instead.