Israeli Treasury Favors Moving to a Five-day School Week

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A school in Israel, November 2019.
A school in Israel, November 2019. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The Finance Ministry supports moving to a five-day school week rather than the current six, in an effort to increase productivity by bringing students’ days off more into line with those of their parents.

A report released by the treasury’s wages division on Tuesday said a five-day school week would result in fewer vacation days from school, though it offered no specific proposal for what a new vacation schedule should look like. The move would also enable the state to employ fewer teachers, it added.

However, the report doesn’t constitute an official recommendation.

Israel is currently the only OECD country where children generally attend school six days a week, even though most parents work a five-day week. Because of the six-day week, students get a lot of vacation days – many more than their parents do. Altogether, students get 96 vacation days a year, whereas parents get only their annual vacation allowance (a minimum of two weeks) plus the nine national holidays.

Thus during the roughly 70 days when students are off but parents aren’t, some parents either take their children to work, use their sick days or work half days. This causes “real damage to economic activity,” the report said. It estimated this damage at 250 million shekels ($73 million) for each day in which children are off but parents aren’t.

The report also noted that a five-day week would make it possible to hire fewer teachers. Since teachers work only five days a week, every school currently needs replacements for each teacher’s weekly day off; moving to a five-day school week would eliminate the need for this.

Back in 2005, a government-appointed committee headed by Shlomo Dovrat also recommended moving to a five-day school week, arguing that the amount of money saved by doing so would cover the cost of more hours on the remaining five days. A few dozen schools actually did switch to a five-day week under a pilot project approved by then-Education Minister Limor Livnat, but the idea was soon shelved.

Today, the only schools required to have five-day weeks are elementary schools in rural areas, to save the high costs of busing children from long distances. However, high school principals nationwide are authorized to decide whether their schools should be in session five days or six.

The Teachers Union strongly opposes moving to a five-day week. “Such a change can happen only by agreement with the Teachers Union,” it said in a statement. It also accused treasury officials of exploiting the current transitional government “to try to turn public attention away from the deficit and against Israeli educators.”

“They know very well that the real story is the distortion in the number of vacation days customary in Israel’s economy, which is tens of percent lower than in other OECD countries,” it added. “The number of parental vacation days in Israel is similar to that of Third World countries.”

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