Givatayim School Offers Richer Kids a Better Education

At Ben-Gurion Elementary School in Givatayim there are two separate classes for the first and second grades: a regular one and an "art and environment" class, for which parents pay about NIS 10,000 annually. The regular track has 32 pupils in a class with almost 30 hours of instruction a week, while the special track has 25 students in a class at 45 hours. To get into the special program, both the children and their parents are interviewed.

"No one will admit it but this is private education in a public framework," said a source in the Givatayim educational system who is familiar with the school.

The Education Ministry has approved the separate classes. According to a source at the ministry, "this is a flagrant example of well-off parents buying their children a better education."

The special track consists of the regular 30 hours a week of core studies such as reading, writing and math, while another 15 hours include more of these subjects as well as an "enrichment" program in art and the environment.

The students regularly visit the city's science center, attend seminars at Tel Aviv Museum, and enjoy a range of hands-on classes in dance, music and art. They also visit the Zoological Center Tel Aviv, better known as the Ramat Gan Safari.

The school day lasts from 8 A.M. to 3:45 P.M. with a lunch break; Fridays are shorter.

According to the Givatayim municipality, however, "there has never been a case where a student was not accepted to the class for financial reasons." The city also says the two classes have many joint activities.

A month and a half ago Haaretz revealed that Yad Giora Junior High School in Herzliya had three different types of classes: A regular one with 40 students in a class learning 35 hours a week; an "Atid" ("Future") class with the same number of students studying 41 to 43 hours a week, with some lessons conducted in small groups; and a "Scientific Leadership" class with 25 students at 45 hours a week.

Regular track, Atid track

Parents pay NIS 1,200 a year for the regular track and NIS 2,800 for the Atid track. The Scientific Leadership track costs NIS 6,000. Both the Herzliya and Givatayim programs have received Education Ministry approval, even though in the past the ministry officially opposed private schooling.

The difference between the two cities is that in Herzliya the separation into different tracks starts in the seventh grade, while in Givatayim it starts in the first grade.

An official in the Givatayim educational system agreed that the special classes are a problem - "a gray [market] education within the public framework," he said. "It is a problem, and any other definition is an attempt to hide that. The initiative was meant to provide an answer for Givatayim residents, many of whom chose to move to neighboring cities to find such frameworks."

Another official said the city and ministry believe that only "excellence" provided to some students will save the school.

Minister 'sees nothing wrong'

Education Ministry officials told Haaretz that Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and his director general Shimshon Shoshani see nothing wrong with the situation at the Givatayim school.

The ministry said that it "does not object to opening special classes in the framework of the official education [system], on the condition that they meet the educational criteria set by the ministry.

According to the municipality, the new classes were also created due to demographic considerations. Over the years, the number of students at Ben-Gurion has fallen, and there were fears about its continued operation. The special framework helped the school increase its number of students and avoid closure."

The Givatayim municipality said that as part of the attempt to improve the city's educational system, and because of the rising demand from parents, the new track was established. At the same time, the entire school was upgraded, and all the classes learn about art and the environment.

In addition, the city said the ministry approved the change in cooperation with the parents association, and significant discounts were given in cases of need.