Distance Learning for Some: Israel Yet to Provide Needy Pupils With Computers

With global demand hampering procurement and the Education Ministry yet to calculate how many students lack computers, the situation for underprivileged students looks bleak

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An empty elementary school classroom as Israel closed schools for nationwide lockdown, Tel Aviv, Israel,  September 17, 2020.
An empty elementary school classroom as Israel closed schools for nationwide lockdown, Tel Aviv, Israel, September 17, 2020.Credit: AP/Sebastian Scheiner

The Education Ministry still hasn’t begun distributing computers to students who need them to participate in distance learning, even though the school year started three weeks ago and the coronavirus has been around for seven months already.

Last month, Education Ministry Director General Amit Edry said that computers would be given to about a third of the students who need them by the end of September, and every child in need of a computer would get one by the end of January.

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But Ofer Rimon, the head of the ministry’s technology administration, told the Knesset Committee for the Rights of the Child on Wednesday that the ministry still doesn’t even know how many students lack computers. To date, he said, the ministry has been relying on data from the OECD, which found that nine percent of Israeli students, or around 140,000 children, lack either a computer or an internet connection at home.

But the situation is far worse, according to a recent analysis by the Finance Ministry’s chief economist of Central Bureau of Statistics data. Around 20 percent of Israeli students reportedly live in homes with no computer, and 27 percent have no internet connection.

The committee’s chairman, MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List), asked Rimon why the ministry hasn’t conducted a survey to determine exactly how many students lack computers or internet connections. Rimon responded: “That’s a statistic that’s hard to gather. It’s as if you asked me how many people have pianos at home.”

Rimon said the ministry was trying to provide computers to students as quickly as possible, but “the computers aren’t here at the moment.” The delay stems from growing demand for computers worldwide, which has made them hard to procure, he explained.

“Switzerland, Saudi Arabia – they all want computers. That’s the situation,” he said. “It’s understandable; an event suddenly happened.”

The ministry, he added, is talking with computer suppliers in an effort to speed up delivery. “I got a call from one supplier who had received a request from South Africa that would have halted his distribution for three weeks,” he said. “We fought over this.”

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