Editorial |

Israel's Education System Gets a Band-Aid Instead of a Reform

Haaretz Editorial
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A Jerusalem first grade teacher and her students on the first day of school in September 2021.
A Jerusalem first grade teacher and her students on the first day of school in September 2021.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Haaretz Editorial

The negotiations between the Finance Ministry and the Israel Teachers Union have gone on for months. Any hope that they would lead to significant change quickly gave way to the realization that the window of opportunity had closed. In its stead came deliberate foot-dragging, pre-planned blowups of meetings and a series of other maneuvers, accompanied by selective leaks from both sides.

Consequently, even if an agreement is ultimately signed with the preschool and elementary school teachers, it’s highly unlikely to solve the education crisis. The public discourse about this crisis is devoid of any long-term vision. Moreover, the emerging agreement is almost irrelevant to the problems awaiting the system in the upcoming school year, which is slated to begin in a little over a month. The crisis runs so deep that the agreement won’t even scratch the surface of it. It’s a Band-Aid instead of a reform.

At Monday’s meeting, the treasury offered a 30 percent increase in teachers’ starting salaries, bringing them up to 9,000 shekels ($2,600) a month. Together with grants and other salary increments, teachers and other education workers could get salaries of around 10,000 shekels a month. But despite these promises, it must be remembered that some teachers, especially new ones, work part-time, making the government’s offer less enticing. The dispute between the parties now apparently revolves around veteran teachers, since in the view of Teachers Union secretary general Yaffa Ben David, the raise they are being offered isn’t large enough.

It must be hoped that the parties will manage to bridge the gaps between them, which also relate to how teachers’ vacation days are distributed throughout the year and other issues. But for the 2022-23 school year, it will apparently be too late. Deep educational and social processes, along with the Education Ministry’s flawed preparations, mean that the upcoming school year will begin in a crisis mode due to a shortage of teachers and last-minute appointments of principals (training new teachers takes two to four years). Israeli students will continue to pay the price of a dysfunctional school system.

Based on reports from principals and other education workers, the Education Ministry said earlier this week that some 5,600 teaching positions remain unfilled, with the school year’s opening on September 1 fast approaching. The main shortages are in Tel Aviv and elsewhere in the center of the country, particularly in elementary schools. In some subjects, especially in secondary education, the ministry appears to be underestimating the shortage. Moreover, as of last week, 370 administrative positions remained unfilled.

Salary is an important element of the necessary corrective process, but solutions must also be sought to the problems of teacher quality, overcrowded classrooms, teachers’ workload, achievement gaps among students and a host of other issues. The school system operates as if it were on automatic pilot. And it is gradually losing any connection with or relevance to the world inhabited by both teachers and students.

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