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The Education Ministry has instructed school principals to devote no more than 10 percent of school days to activities outside of the instructional curriculum. Ministry figures indicate that 20 percent of school days are dedicated to activities other than class instruction, including school trips and national memorial days.

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and ministry director general Shimshon Shoshani have promised to make sure that elementary school students reap the maximum benefits possible from classroom hours.

The new directives were laid out in a document distributed recently to all principals. "A high percentage of instructional hours are not being utilized due to lost school days. These occur because of the abundance of activities that are not linked to subject curricula."

The guidelines apply to grades one through six.

Elementary schools operating on a six-day school week week will be allowed 22 days of non-instructional activity every year. Middle and high schools will be allowed 21 days annually.

Regulations for the 11th and 12th grades are being drafted. They will be implemented in the next school year.

One Tel Aviv principal welcomed the new guidelines: "Sometimes principals devote significant hours to non-instructional activity, usually in order to win the affection of students and parents. Because the number of class hours is limited, these activities must come at the expense of other activities." He cautioned, however, that "We mustn't go to the other extreme. A school has other functions besides only being concerned with grades."

According to a report prepared by the Knesset Research and Information Center, 30 percent of all Israeli elementary schools do not give students the required minimum of classroom hours - generally between 29 and 32 hours a week. Moreover, at one third of these schools the lost classroom time is never made up.

"The students receive fewer instructional hours than are required," the notice to principals stated, "and are likely to lose instruction time for certain essential subjects."

Around 45 percent of middle-schoolers also did not receive the minimum amount of class hours. "This is a serious finding, one pointing to significant damage caused to academic achievements at this academic stage and afterward," the report said.

The Knesset Education Committee devoted its meeting yesterday to the matter. Committee chairman Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) said that additional information was needed in order to obtain a complete full picture of the situation. According to the available data, Orlev said, "20 to 30 percent of school days are not being run as they should. Failure to make proper use of school days undermines the chance to give these students what they deserve."

Speaking to the committee yesterday, Shoshani addressed the issue of teacher absenteeism. "Twice a year a teacher is entitled to take two days off for illness. In addition, a teacher can bring in a doctor's note for additional sick days," Shoshani said. "We were shocked to discover that teachers most often call in sick on Sunday or Thursday. This is harmful to students."

Ministry data from three years ago indicated that teacher absenteeism is responsible for the loss of 7 percent of class hours. Student absenteeism accounts for a loss of 10 percent. The figures showed that only two-thirds of classroom time allocated for academic instruction is actually used for that purpose.