Israel's Education Ministry to Improve After-school Program for Underprivileged Pupils

Move follows criticism from state comptroller that program didn’t help working parents enough.

Yarden Skop
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An after-school center for at risk children. (Illustrative)Credit: Moti Milrod
Yarden Skop

The Education Ministry promised Sunday to improve the after-school program for some 150,000 underprivileged pupils, aged 3-8. One important change is that the programs (zaharonim in Hebrew) will begin on the first day of school, September 1, rather than after the September-October holidays. Despite the changes, the annual budget is unchanged at about 350 million shekels ($89 million).

Another improvement should reduce the number of children in each group: from 30 to 28 in schools; 24 to 22 in kindergarten; and no more than 8 children in special education frameworks.

The monthly fee for parents will be 40 shekels, instead of the current 60. The salary for teachers and counselors will increase – school and preschool teachers will earn 55 shekels per hour instead of 45, while aides will earn 33 shekels.

The ministry also promises to improve the pedagogical quality of the program, with the enrichment budget increasing in the coming year to 11,000 shekels for each educational framework (it’s currently 5,000 shekels). The enrichment will include activities in a number of areas, including sports, art, dance, science and more.

The program operates in accordance with the government decision from May 2013, which adopted a recommendation from the Trajtenberg Committee . It includes some 200,000 children aged 3-8 from deprived sectors. The program operates from Sunday to Thursday, from the end of the school day until 4 P.M., and is designed to reduce the gaps among pupils in low socioeconomic clusters, with an emphasis on additional teaching, a hot meal and enrichment activities.

Michal Cohen, the director general of the Education Ministry, said, “The new format emphasizes pedagogical quality, varied enrichment and suitable manpower. It will enable solutions that promote equality of opportunity in education, in accordance with the child’s ability and preferences. The program will begin immediately with the opening of the school year, and for that purpose the ministry is enabling the local authorities to prepare in advance.”

Last December, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira published a report about the operations of the afternoon program. The investigation noted that the Education Ministry didn’t ensure supervision over children’s attendance, which was sometimes only partial. The report also found that the schedule didn’t coincide with parents’ work hours. In addition, they operate until 3:45 or 4 P.M. and don’t operate during school vacations.

The comptroller found problems on the pedagogical level, too. The counselors were not required to have any specific certification, or a teaching or educational background; nor were they required to have knowledge in a particular field that could contribute to the enrichment of the children. Although in morning classes the Education Ministry decreed there would be no more than 35 children in a preschool group and no more than 40 in a school classroom, the franchisees, with the approval of the ministry, opened after-school programs in which the number of children was greater, which was liable to undermine achievement of the objectives.

The new Education Ministry arrangements are supposed to provide a solution to some of the comptroller’s criticisms.

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