No Time to Wait for Vision

The seemingly hurried approach of the education minister is not a result of charlatanism, but rather because reality demands it.

There were some who were amazed by the alacrity of Education Minister Yuli Tamir: Not two months have passed since she assumed her position, and she already has brought forth a plan for the government and public to rehabilitate education. But there's no reason to be amazed. The minister was not born into education on the day of her appointment. It's been her field of endeavor for many years. She didn't win her title as a professor of education for nothing. She isn't coming from crude ignorance or ignorant crudeness, to succeed her predecessor.

Must one really be a professor to know which of the instruments are necessary to repair education in the country? Make that instruments and content. Doesn't any sensible person -- a teacher, parent or pupil -- know exactly what is wrong and what has to be repaired? Is there any need for a commission that will spend years examining the issue, and then come up with a report that any child could provide, even the one who has his name embroidered on the towel, Shlomo D.?

If forms were handed out to the citizenry, and they were asked to hand in their recommendations in a year's time, there is no doubt that the forms would be filled up with the same recommendations, with the same recommended steps, with perhaps the only difference being the order of priorities of what comes first. Who wouldn't list "a long school day," because the short school day was never satisfactory and will never satisfy the users; who wouldn't recommend small classes, because classes filled to the brink create more negligence, more violence and less schooling; who wouldn't make note of the need to improve the wages and working conditions of teachers of both sexes, whose narrow shoulders must bear the burden of the problems of a nation anticipating their solution.

The seemingly hurried approach of the education minister in this case is not a result of charlatanism, but rather because reality demands it, and it is self-evidently so. Reality is what dictates the plan, and the plan writes itself.

The Sharon-Netanyahu-Olmert-Livnat government did not lift a finger to make a change in the suicidal condition of the educational system. Worse, it did the exact opposite of what was needed: instead of more hours, it reduced the weekly hours by seven; instead of shrinking classes, they were made more crowded as detailed this week by reporter Or Kashti in Maariv. In the last five years, about 16,500 classes, representing 83 percent of all the classes in the school system, have increased in size by 7 percent. Moreover, even in the most crowded classrooms, with 35 pupils and more, the situation was aggravated, and in the school year about to end, there were 10,320 such classes.

Instead of strengthening and encouraging teachers, the Netanyahu-Livnat days will be remembered as a time of abuse and slander. With full cooperation between the finance and education ministers and under the scandalous cover of the Dovrat commission, the educational budget was cut by NIS four billion in 16 repeated cuts. There had never been anything like it in the history of the educational system. Even the praised school lunch program was cooked, the enterprise never expanded as promised, and most of the children from poor families continued to sit in front of empty and broken plates.

Now the new minister wants to correct all that was perverted and shrunk. The newspapers published her ideas on the same day that they were heard in her "consultations with experts," which was nothing more than consultations with reporters. The ideas are all good, and they were packed up one by one like an expensive box of candy for a birthday.

There actually are two questions: How much will the box of candy cost, and does the government really plan to buy it? The government could get angry about the premature leak, and the finance minister already has made known his reservations about the gift's cost. Tamir herself reckons that it will require an NIS 8 billion addition to the budget, while my estimate is higher -- some NIS 10 billion, if not more. And meanwhile, Tamir hasn't been able to restore what was cut from the budget since 2001, and all she's received is a few tens of millions in crumbs from the finance minister's desk. The school construction budget for 2006, for example, remains the same, which means very close to zero compared to the pre-Livnat years of 2,500 classes a year, which itself wasn't enough to fill the deep gaps. And nobody knows what to expect from the 2007 budget, over which discussions will begin in less than two months. Only then will we find out if the minister managed to at least roll the wheel back to make it move forward.

Tamir's first offerings are beautiful and can fill a barn. How long will they remain beautiful before they start rotting, if the prime minister and finance minister refuse to take part? Is it only an accident that the minister avoids calling her ideas a "revolution" or even a "reform," but rather makes do with "vision." Vision, as we all know, is not tied down to a timetable; it's time might never come.

But it certainly has, of course, and possibly too late. The children simply don't have the time to sit and wait. The nature of childhood is that it passes -- and quickly. How quickly they grow, the little ones, and suddenly they are grown-ups and screwed -- we missed taking care of them.