Netanyahu, Education Minister Insist School Year Will Start on Time Despite Coronavirus

With billions earmarked to upgrade student and school infrastructure, Education Ministry tries to inspire confidence in their management of a system in upheaval

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Israel's Education Minister Yoav Gallant, Jerusalem, August 2020.
Israel's Education Minister Yoav Gallant, Jerusalem, August 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Yoav Gallant said on Monday Israel's school year will open on time, contradicting remarks by a top Health Ministry official who said some students won't be able to go back to school next month as Israel works to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

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“The school year will open on September 1, period,” Gallant told a parliamentary education committee. “Anyone who says anything else is trying to grab media attention and sow panic."

Netanyahu also said at a closed Likud party meeting on Monday that the new public school year would begin as usual on September 1, in accordance with the outline laid out by Gallant. 

Gallant was responding to comments from Health Ministry director general Chezy Levy, who hinted on Monday that students from fourth grade and up might not return to school at the beginning of next month.

Students at the Jerusalem Experimental School, June 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The education ministry, which came under fire for not managing the return to school efficiently following the first wave of the coronavirus, has a plan in place which will see different grades attending schools in different ways, except for special education students, who will follow classes as normal for all ages.

“A sweeping decision was made to operate special education institutions as normal from September 1,” said the head of the ministry’s special education division, Rachel Abramson. “For every special education student – for both those in special classes and those integrated into regular classes – we will run a routine school day.” To carry this out, treatment and learning centers will be opened so students integrated into regular schools can learn in a classroom, even if their class is not in school, she added.

According to the ministry’s plans, preschool as well as first and second grade students will also attend school full time this coming school year without being divided up into smaller groups. Grades three and four are expected to have their classes split and study in smaller groups all the time, or almost all the time. This will require the use of more classrooms, which means students from the upper grades will have to learn remotely. Last week, Gallant confirmed older students will attend school part of the time, but it remains unclear where they will study on the days they do come in.

Principals were instructed to construct schedules so that a student will not participate in more than five different study groups. In addition, principals were told to concentrate subjects by semester, so teachers will have a lot of class hours for each class – but will not teach a large number of different classes.

Students taking a high school matriculation exam in Jerusalem, June 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

“By the end of the school year, all schools will be connected: Broadband internet in schools, computers for students who cannot afford them,” said Ofer Rimon, the head of the ministry’s communications division. “We will do this year what the Education Ministry did over 10 years. All the teaching staff will undergo training, we will provide advanced software for distance learning and management.”

Last week, Gallant said the ministry will allocate 2.6 billion shekels (over $764 million) to enable dividing up classes into smaller groups, which requires hiring more teachers and other staff. The money will be used to give teachers more hours of work, as well as hiring more people from the outside. This will include newly discharged soldiers who served as teachers during their compulsory army service, and students.

“We will recruit staff who are not working at the moment and are appropriate for the job,” said Gallant, although he did not provide details on what qualifications would be required for the new hires, or whether they would receive any training before they start teaching.

Education Ministry director general Amit Edry said last week that 144,000 students do not have the appropriate means for remote learning at home, and that the ministry planned on spending 1.2 billion shekels (over $352 million) to buy computers for these students and to upgrade the internet infrastructure in schools.

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