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The new school year, 5769, commenced yesterday with only the scandal over the absorption of Ethiopian children in Petah Tikvah's ultra-Orthodox schools casting a shadow over the exciting beginning for so many. This year, 1.48 million pupils will attend grades 1-12, while some 385,000 will go to kindergarten.

"The school year commenced with nearly zero problems," said Shimshon Shoshani, director general of the Education Ministry. "I cannot recall such a calm start to a school year, without strikes or threats to strike," he added.

Some 16 schools, with about 6,000 pupils, did not open their gates yesterday, the ministry said. Among them are six schools in Lod, whose parent-teacher associations kept the schools shut to protest problems with infrastructure.

PM in the class

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar visited the Shaked school at the religious Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, in the Beit She'an Valley, which recently received media attention for having the highest rate of in the country of graduates joining Israel Defense Forces combat units.

"Our visit to the school is an expression of great appreciation for those who join the ranks of the IDF for substantive service, because the IDF is one of the fundamentals of our existence here," Netanyahu said.

The prime minister noted that the day marked the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II. "Last week, I was in Germany and saw the terrible cost that our people paid when we were helpless. Your spirit of volunteerism promises that no such thing will happen again," Netanyahu said.

Educaton Minister Gideon Sa'ar said: "We came to salute you all for your activism, your achievements and the spirit of contribution to society which has brought you to great achievements by all the standards set by the education system."

Sa'ar praised the school for being the opposite of the "gimme, I deserve it" attitude.

Shaked's principal, Moshe Tor-Paz, said that "we educate our youth to educational excellence, to social contribution and commitment to the community. Volunteering for substantive military service is a bonus. Our education nurtures and emphasizes the fact that there are duties, not only rights."

The head of the local council, Yoram Karin, added that the high rate of volunteers for combat duty among the school's pupils resulted from "a complete education system, in which volunteering, setting goals and learning values are linked with educational excellence."