No Lessons Learned

Haaretz Editorial
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Ultra-Orthodox children go to school despite the coronavirus lockdown in Bnei Brak, last week.
Haaretz Editorial

Israel’s children are now paying the price for a prime minister who’s too busy – with his trial that resumed Monday, among other things – and an education minister lacking motivation, initiative or interest in the system he’s responsible for.

Under the plan for exiting the lockdown that’s been discussed over the past several days, schools were supposed to open in part today. But the cabinet didn’t manage to make time to formulate the necessary plan for this, and on Monday it announced that the “consultations will continue.” All this, while a large percentage of ultra-Orthodox schools continue to operate.

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Unfortunately for the pupils, teachers, preschool teachers, principals and parents, instead of fighting for a reopening of schools, Education Minister Yoav Gallant seems fine with leaving them closed. “If we must leave the educational system closed to overcome the pandemic, we must do so,” he declared at the ministers’ meeting Saturday night.

The intention was to reopen the preschools, grades 1 to 4, and grades 11 and 12 in communities with relatively low rates of infection – those designated “yellow” and “green.” In those areas designated orange and red – with higher rates of infection – the children would return to school in capsules of half a class, so that each child would go to school every other day, and classes would take place only in open areas.

It’s hard to accept the fact that some of these solutions – like having classes outdoors – have already been proposed, discussed, and even partially implemented many weeks ago. Moreover, it isn’t clear that such a model is suitable for preschoolers, and if it’s possible to conduct real classes under these conditions or only social encounters. And nobody’s even talking about fifth through 10th graders; they will continue to (not) study remotely in all towns and cities, irrespective of the local infection rate. These age groups will continue to pay the harshest price for the government’s failures.

Of all countries that have closed schools during the pandemic, Israel’s schools have been closed the longest. This faithfully reflects the distorted priorities dictated by the prime minister and education minister, who are abandoning the schools to the mistaken methods of the past (classes and capsules that were too large, overlaps between the capsules that makes the whole thing pointless, and more). It’s not just that education has been pushed to the back of the line, and that decisions are made hastily, at the last minute – there have also been no lessons learned, even though the Education Ministry and Health Ministry had almost two months of lockdown to plan an orderly return to the classrooms.

To the despair of pupils and their parents, we must add that of the teachers and principals, who have lost confidence in this detached government. The faulty handling of the coronavirus crisis has cost Israel’s children almost an entire year of studies, but now there is no one to turn to, since the government is preparing for yet another election campaign, which will also treat education as a non-priority.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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