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Israel’s Schools in the Coronavirus Age: Back to Abnormal

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A teacher preparing a school for re-opening in Givatayim, Israel, October 29, 2020.
A teacher preparing a school for re-opening in Givatayim, Israel, October 29, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

There’s nothing normal about “back to normal” for the children in grades one to four except the chaos provided by the Education Ministry since day one of the coronavirus crisis. Even publication of the plan to return to normal was plagued by changes right up to the last minute, and they will continue to accompany the return to school.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant presented a different plan from the one the government had decided on, and first and second graders will study four days a week, not three, while third and fourth graders will study four days a week, not five. But even that plan can’t be relied on. Two weeks from now the “capsule” plan for first and second grades will be canceled so that, maybe, grades five and six will be able to go back to school – unless the Health Ministry’s plan wins out and grades 11 and 12 go back before five and six.

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The absurdity is that even if holding classes in smaller groups is an efficient way to avoid a spike in infections, that advantage will be scuttled when children from the different capsules mix in afternoon programs. What’s the logic in that? School has lurched into session three times like this now. It’s inconceivable for the approach to such a large system – 3 million children – to be so amateurish and confused.

Also, more effort should go to creating capsules for children from grades 5 through 10, not leaving them at home, where they’ve been for the past six weeks. It seems that no one is working hard for them, because when they stay home it doesn’t hurt the parents economically.

It’s important to stress that there are alternatives to the Education Ministry’s plan. By cutting back on the material studied, many local authorities throughout the country have drawn up better plans that will allow elementary school children to study five days a week in capsules while following Health Ministry guidelines and without the need to hire extra staff.

But the Education Ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Health Ministry prefer to ignore the local authorities, apparently according to the crooked logic that if it’s broke, don’t fix it. The wavering over dates for the winter matriculation exams is also putting undue pressure on teachers and students, and it looks like we’re set for another failure by the Education Ministry.

The impression is that decision-making at the Education Ministry is unprofessional, a shoot-from-the-hip approach without learning from previous mistakes. When decisions are made by a small forum of the minister and his people, keeping professionals out of the process, such a complex and sensitive system can’t be properly run.

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