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An innovative program to offer accelerated teacher certification to promising graduates of teacher-training courses has gotten underway. The Hotam program will be run in coordination between the Education Ministry, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the non-profit organization Hakol Hinuch.

Participants will undergo intensive certification over a month and a half during the summer, then begin teaching at the start of the school year in September.

Among those behind the plan ar Dov Lautman, and Shalmit Amihi, a former director general of the Education Ministry.

Administrators of Israel's teachers colleges are almost uniformly opposed to the program, not least due to its short duration. Participants in the program, one college official said, "will not be ready to teach at the start of the school year. They will need a lot of attention and support to survive their difficult encounter with middle school students."

Hotam will offer participants a number of benefits. In addition to teacher certification, they will receive an NIS-4,000 grant and dormitory-style accommodation during the program, a salary at 80 percent of standard starting pay for teachers, personal guidance from veteran instructors and financial aid to pursue a master's program.

On the other hand, students will be obligated to remain within the education system for two years after finishing the program. The Education Ministry had wanted the obligation to span three years, but candidates said they would be much less likely to join should they be tied in for such a period.

One hundred recent graduates of teachers colleges will participate in Hotam in its first phase. The program has a budget of NIS 24 million, a third of which will be provided by the Education Ministry.

The course will run for 400 academic hours, spread over five and a half weeks. Brochures distributed recently to prospective candidates stated that efforts will be made to include "significant practical experience," despite the fact that the program will be run over the summer, while most students are out of school.

Prof. Shlomo Beck, the outgoing president of Kaye Academic College of Education in Be'er Sheva, said yesterday, "Teaching is a profession that must be studied seriously - it is impossible to do 'instant certification.' Accelerated qualification leads to a cheapening of the profession. We wouldn't accept such an option in the field of medicine, for instance."

Another high-ranking college official added, "If the time and resources devoted to the program were allotted to us, the colleges would look much different. The Education Ministry has forgotten that we are still the primary body tasked with certifying teachers. Treating program participants as 'a select team' sends a message of contempt to all the other students."