At Education, Let's Give Yesh Atid a Chance

Likud's Gideon Sa'ar is maybe the most anti-education Education Minister. This should be a good enough reason to transfer the ministry to Yesh Atid.

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The battle over the Education Ministry was to be decided late Sunday night - the fight was between Likud's Gideon Sa'ar and Yesh Atid's Shay Piron.

Over the past few days Sa'ar has repeatedly declared he wants to remain at the ministry, where he has been in charge for all of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's third term. Leading the Education Ministry is nothing less than a  "mission" and a "national assignment," says Sa'ar.

But you should take those expressions with a grain of salt and a bit of understanding for a politician in trouble. Not long ago, say, just before Likud's disappointing election performance, Sa'ar knew how to signal, through official spokesmen and temporary volunteers, that his next national mission would be at the Finance Ministry. His current attempt to hold on to the Education Ministry is just damage control, a respite on his way to his next job.

Limor Livnat was education minister for almost five years, from 2001 to 2006. The destruction she left behind created a feeling that she was there for much longer, a kind of lost decade. If at the end of last night it turned out that  Sa'ar will continue as education minister, he's likely to serve longer than  Livnat did.

We can hope that in such a case Sa'ar will show a bit less of the magical  thinking and lust for power that he enjoyed showing during his term now  ending. Chances are this won't happen. It's hard to be weaned off such  behavior.

Two areas were the focus for Sa'ar and his staff over the past four years:  raising achievement levels and strengthening values. Tests, national and  international, were made sacred to a level never seen before in an attempt to  achieve the first goal. Studies deteriorated to learning based on getting students passed the next exam.

Subjects that were difficult to evaluate quantitatively were neglected and almost abandoned; the threat of measurement held over the heads of principals and teachers blocked every opportunity for pedagogical entrepreneurship, or prevented the creation of trust among educators.

These laws of the jungle are not a heavenly decree or a careless mistake. They stem from direct policy, one that prioritizes management over education, dictation-taking over listening. Piron was until recently the principal of a high school yeshiva in Petah Tikva and the director of the Hakol Hinuch education movement, a nonprofit group seeking to reform the education system.

Based on his previous statements, he believes in reducing the oppressive influence of measurement and evaluation.

The second area where Sa'ar worked tirelessly was to subordinate the education system to his political worldview. Here too there was very little listening.

The right-wing indoctrination flooded every level of the system from nursery schools, where the teachers were asked to teach the national anthem, to high schools, which were judged and incentivized based on the percentage of students who joined the army.

If the meaning of education is marked by dialogue, listening and at exceptional magic moments considering other opinions, then Sa'ar is maybe the most anti-education Education Minister. This should be a good enough reason to transfer the ministry to Yesh Atid, a party that put education at the heart of its platform. But that may not be enough.

Gideon Sa'ar outside a polling station in Tel Aviv during the Likud's primaries, Nov. 25, 2012.Credit: Moti Milrod