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The cabinet is expected to approve the plan to reduce the number of pupils per classroom to 32 at its session on Sunday, following its approval by the prime minister and finance minister.

Education Minister Yuli Tamir, who presented the plan yesterday at the Herzliya Conference, said it would be implemented first in schools of lower social-economic standing, and then gradually be introduced over a 10-year period in all state schools.

The demand to alleviate the crowded conditions in classrooms was made by the secondary school teachers in their recent strike. The government's promise to comply was part of the agreement that led to the end of the strike. The initiative is estimated at some NIS 2.3 billion.

Tamir said that implementing the plan would enable "private instruction for every pupil," and help the teachers to "cope with the pupils' heterogeneous standards."

The number of pupils will be reduced to 32 in state elementary schools, junior high and high schools. The 10-year implementation period was set as a compromise between the Education Ministry and teachers' union and the treasury, which wanted to extend implementation to 12 years.

In addition, first and second graders will be divided into groups of 20 during reading, writing and arithmetic lessons as of the next school year, at an estimated cost of NIS 360 million.

By the first week of February, a committee headed by Professor Yitzhak Friedman is supposed to present recommendations on implementing the plan. The committee is deliberating whether to recommend a fast significant reduction of pupils per class in a small number of schools, or a moderate reduction in a larger number of schools, Education Ministry sources said.