Back to School

After Gaza Op, Israeli School Year Opens With Looming Budget Cuts

Activities planned for first two weeks of school will allow students, especially in south, to ease into learning routine after summer vacation disrupted by Gaza fighting.

Emil Salman

More than 2 million pupils and preschoolers, including those in the south, start school on Monday morning.

Several parent committees in southern communities on Sunday night cancelled planned local strikes and said they would be sending their children to school, since the cease-fire that ended Operation Protective Edge less than a week ago seems to be holding. Thus, except for some communities in the Arab sector where local protests are expected, schools will open on time throughout the country.

The Education Ministry said that because the summer vacation was disrupted by the fighting, the first two weeks of school, particularly in the south, would be dedicated to gradually returning to a learning routine by “integrating relaxing activities, facilitating emotional expression, and strengthening personal resilience.”

The ministry explained that during the first few days, teachers and students will discuss their personal experiences during the summer break. During the first few weeks schools should allow time for social and volunteer activities, as well as day trips, creative activities, talent competitions, and student council initiatives.

The school year opens with the Education Ministry being asked to give up 500 million shekels ($139.9 million) of its budget to help finance the expenses incurred by Operation Protective Edge – the highest cut among all the government ministries. This budget cut comes on top of cuts totaling 1.8 billion shekels in 2013-14.

Education Minister Shay Piron, who visited the ministry’s situation room on Sunday, said of the cuts, “I’m convinced that there won’t be any harm to the core curricula, to teaching hours or to our big programs….everything we promised this year will happen as planned. We have allocated a lot of hours of counseling and therapy for the emotional dimension, and we will do everything to embrace the pupils and support them after the summer they’ve been through.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also visited the ministry’s situation room and said, “We wish the children of Israel a successful, productive and safe year. I want to tell you, children of Israel, that I know that you didn’t have a real summer vacation, but I hope that during the holidays you’ll also find time to have fun and relax. I want to commend you for listening to your parents and for the fact that you were part of our national unity.”

Speaking to officials of the ministry’s southern district, Netanyahu said, “The south has definitely been through a complex period … but we are ready to open the school year. I want to strengthen you and embrace all the residents of the south.

“One of the big things that emerged from Protective Edge was that the people are with the south… and we will continue to articulate that,” he said.

Of the 2 million headed to school on Monday, 149,705 are first graders while 112,750 are 12th graders. Greeting them will be 164,999 teachers and other educational personnel.

Avishag Shaar-Yashuv