Israel Halts Online Schooling for Students Affected by Coronavirus Closures

Teachers discover that the Finance Ministry does not consider remote teaching to be work and they would not be paid for online lessons

Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
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Students engage in a remote lesson at a school in southern Israel, July 2019.
Students engage in a remote lesson at a school in southern Israel, July 2019.Credit: Eyal Toueg
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Shira Kadari-Ovadia

Online schooling has been halted following an agreement signed Wednesday between Israel’s teachers union and the education and finance ministries, leaving no alternative education structure for Israeli students as schools remain closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The decision confused teachers and frustrated parents. The agreement pertains to elementary and junior high school, while high school students will continue to study online for the time being.

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The decision came after the teachers union discovered that the Finance Ministry does not consider online teaching to be work and teachers would not be paid. The teachers have been put on forced leave, which they will have to make up during the summer vacation. Instead of online classes, there will be nine additional days of school during the summer break.

At the moment it’s not clear how or in what scope studies will continue. Following complaints from parents, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that he would look into restoring the online lessons, but concrete steps have yet to be announced. Education Minister Rafi Peretz lauded the prime minister’s announcement, thanking him, and saying that they will continue work to allow “teachers to teach remotely and get paid for it."

Leza, Miley and Shalev Friedman at their home in Tel Aviv, March 19, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod

‘An island of sanity’

Parents and students expressed frustration at the end of studies. One parent told Haaretz the online schooling was “an island of sanity” and another said it “preserves a drop of routine at a chaotic time.”

Miley Friedan, a third grade student in Tel Aviv’s Ramat Hahayal school, opened her mornings this week in front of her computer. After brushing her teeth and eating breakfast, she had daily assignments waiting for her on the school site. Her teacher called occasionally during the week to ask how she was, and held a video chat with the whole class through the Zoom application.

Friedman’s older brother, Shalev, 12, carefully carried out the daily study assignments from his teachers. His morning began with marking attendance on the school site, where the day’s assignments awaited him – mainly exercises in virtual work books. He’s a member of a class Whatsapp group, where the students can keep in touch with one another and the teacher can check in with them.

“Without the lessons we’ll be bored,” says Miley, but says she’ll go on studying even without defined tasks. Shalev was happy with the online lessons and says stopping them “sucks but also not. It’s not that it’s fun to do homework, but on the other hand it’s boring at home,” he says.

As far as Lisa, their mother, is concerned, cutting off the study routine is a “catastrophe.” She has two other children, one in high school and one in kindergarten, and says the studying maintains a fixed schedule for the children. Although the site crashes every once in a while due to overloading, it achieves its purpose: The children cooperate, are busy learning and doing creative work and improving their computer skills.

A remote lesson through the Zoom app from the Pelech school in Tel Aviv, March 2020.Credit: מוטי מילרוד

‘It’s an insult’

The decision to stop the online schooling, reached after slur-filled negotiations between the Finance Ministry and teachers union, left the teachers confused. The Education Ministry had boasted for days about the extent of the online studies (“keep it up!” Education Minister Rafi Peretz wrote on his Facebook page less than a day before announcing the studies’ were to halt).

“They tell you, everything you’ve done till now doesn’t count. It’s an insult,” says Zeri Rahimi Friedman, a teacher at Branco Weiss Keshet school in Mazkeret Batya.

Rahimi Friedman’s online lessons are supposed to stop on Friday following the agreement. Asked if she’ll continue teaching she says: “I’m in a dilemma. On the one hand I feel obligated to, on the other hand a teacher who continues teaching appears to expect the others to follow suit.”

Maya Bar, a second grade teacher in Graetz School in Tel Aviv, created a time table for her students that didn’t require intensive work on a computer. Every morning she sent to the parents’ phone an illustrated schedule which they could print and pin on the refrigerator. It consisted of study assignments as well as assignments in drawing, singing and movement, links to video films and various games.

On Wednesday, after the agreement was signed, worried parents sent her personal messages expressing their fears about severing the learning routine. “They told me the children had waited for the schedule,” Bar says.

Now she too is in a dilemma. “I think I’ll continue teaching as I’ve done so far, at least until the beginning of Passover,” she says. “On the other hand, I wonder if a teacher who doesn’t will be seen as not caring.”

“It’s not fair to expect teachers to continue teaching without pay,” she said.

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