Education Minister Shay Piron confronted a nationwide protest against classroom overcrowding yesterday at a Knesset education committee hearing that was packed with angry parents.
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The parents were protesting the Education Ministry’s refusal to allow the opening of additional classes so as to reduce class size, even if the local authorities and/or parents were willing to foot the bill. Parents who launched a national protest against this decision – dubbed the “sardine campaign” – got tens of thousands of supporters.
Earlier this year, the ministry had instructed local authorities to stick to the standard that calls for up to 40 children in a class before a class could be split, in an effort to preserve equality between locales with more means and those with less. The ministry fended off a challenge to this policy in the High Court of Justice, which upheld the ministry’s position. During the High Court hearing, the ministry noted that in addition to promoting inequality, classes funded by parents or local authorities are usually staffed by teachers hired outside the ministry framework, in violation of labor agreements.
At yesterday’s hearing on the subject, which was punctuated by both applause and catcalls, Piron told the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee that, during the coming school year, a ministry panel would examine the issue of classroom overcrowding. However, he stressed that he could not allow the educational system to become a free-for-all in which those with money got more.
“I’m here so that we can become a model society, and it will not be one if we have social gaps,” Piron said. “We can’t live in a country where a child faces a glass ceiling because of the area where he was born, his parents’ pay slip or his parents’ origins.
“We cannot solve these problems in an instant,” he added.
Education Ministry director general Michal Cohen told the panel that classes already open would be allowed to remain open, while in schools where classrooms are smaller than standard, requests for additional classes would also be considered.
Committee chairman MK Amram Mitzna (Hatnuah) said he had recorded Piron’s promises and added that the committee supported the ministry’s plan to provide differential funding, so that poor towns would get more per pupil in an effort to promote equality.
He added, however, that he hoped the ministry “understood that to improve education in the State of Israel, we don’t have to reduce the quality of education in the strong locales, but to raise it in the weaker communities.”