Be'er Sheva students (Eliahu Hershkowitz)
Be'er Sheva students celebrating the end of the last school year. Photo by Eliahu Hershkowitz
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The Education Ministry is considering shortening summer vacation by two weeks in order to create a two-week break in the middle of the school year.

The ministry submitted this idea a public committee examining the structure of the school year.

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar appointed former Finance Ministry director general Shmuel Slavin to head the committee about five months ago, following repeated demands by parents that the two-month summer vacation be shortened. These demands also prompted several Knesset members to sponsor related bills.

The committee's goal is to determine how best to use the study days during the school year.

The school year currently begins September 1 and soon afterward breaks for the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot ). This time "is a wasted period that hardly permits any studying at all. By the time the teacher begins to get to know the students and teach, the holidays arrive and break the continuity," a ministry official said.

The Slavin committee includes officials from the Education Ministry and the Union of Local Authorities, and representatives of two teachers unions. Slavin has served as director general of the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, State Lottery director general and the prime minister's economic adviser.

The committee has met about five times so far.

Representatives of the Council of Youth Movements in Israel and the National Student Union, who appeared before the committee yesterday, cautioned against shortening the summer holiday.

A few weeks ago Education Ministry officials submitted their proposals for changing the school year's structure. The committee reportedly prefers the proposal to hold summer vacation from July 6 through August 21.

Ministry officials said resuming studies on August 22 would give students at least two weeks in class before the break for the High Holy Days.

Summer vacation currently begins on June 21 for high schools and on July 1 for elementary schools.

The proposal also suggests a two-week semester break in the middle of the school year, in January or February, and shortening the Sukkot and Passover holidays. Education Ministry officials already have discussed with treasury officials paying teachers for lost vacation days, a source said. The teachers' vacations are part of the collective work agreement, and the agreement of their unions is required before changing them.

The Education Ministry also prepared alternative proposals without the semester break or changing the summer holiday.

The Teachers Federation, which represents most elementary school teachers, did not rule out the proposed changes.

"No change will be made without compensation and we're ready to discuss it," a federation member said yesterday. However, the Secondary School Teachers Union objects, at least officially, to shortening the summer holiday.

"The schools' infrastructure, especially the air conditioners, will not enable teaching in August," a union member said.

He also said changing the school year would be "a populist response to pressure from parents, who want someone else to take responsibility for their children."

The Youth Movement Council said in a position paper submitted to the committee yesterday that students in grades 9-11 - "the movements' backbone" are active [in the movements] for about 25 days of the summer holiday. Shortening the vacation "would turn this activity into a burden. It is fair to assume the teenagers are interested in using the vacation for other things as well."