Teachers Blast Education Ministry for Replacing Them With 'Babysitters'

Protest hiring of contract teachers to give children long school day.

The Education Ministry has issued a public tender for outside organizations to hire teachers who would give many pupils an extended school day. The issue of outsourcing the hiring of teachers has been a source of controversy as many contract teachers do not get the same employment conditions as regular teachers.

Nir Michaeli, who heads the education department at the Seminar Hakibbutzim Teacher's College in Tel Aviv, said: "The main thing that I am bothered by is the quality of service that will be provided to the public." He said that instead of a long school day, the students will get a babysitting service that will be administered at the lowest possible cost.

The terms of the public tender explicitly state that the staff of these outsourced extended school day programs will not be considered government employees. Responsibility for hiring and firing and payment of the staff of the program lies with the outside organization, not with ministry.

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar announced enthusiastically on Tuesday that his intention to retain his post in the next government, but he was interrupted by an audience member who pressed him on the issue of outsourcing teachers.

More than 800 university students have signed petitions pledging to refuse to work for such outsourced programs. The petition called Sa'ar's policy a "declaration of war on education in Israel and on the country's teachers." The petition alleges that that filling thousands of new positions by outsourcing would subject teachers to poorer employment conditions and a "contract worker employment ethic."

Despite the controversy, less than a month ago, as part of its plans to extend the school day, the ministry issued a public tender for outside organizations that would hire contract teachers whose addition would make a longer school day possible. Initially, in the fall, the program is to provide an extended day for children ages three to nine from poorer families. Within five years, however, the program is to be rolled out around the country and involve about 900,000 children.

The tender for services for the extended school day will expand the number of contract educational staff substantially. When Haaretz asked more than six months ago about the practice of using outsourced staff, the ministry said director-general Dalit Shtauber had convened a committee to develop policy on the issue.

The new ministry tender calls for contract teachers for afternoon kindergarten classes of 30 children and elementary school classes of 33 children. The staff will not be limited to licensed teachers and could include university students, counselors and other personnel involved in after-school activities.

The minimum standards required of after-school staff are 12 years of schooling and three years of experience in teaching, which can include work with youth movements, national service or enrichment programming. The ministry will be providing a kit with suggested activities for the children.

University students in the programs will be paid NIS 42 per hour while licensed teachers who choose to remain at school in the afternoons will get NIS 55 per hour. Senior teaching and kindergarten staff will get NIS 65. Teachers with a full bachelor's degree will get NIS 80 per hour. The public tender also permits local authorities to hire additional program assistants at their own expense.

"From this public tender, it's clear that a university student who enters the system will be exploited," said Giora Vala, a Hebrew University students and one of those who began the petition drive. "He will be a contract teacher. Even if they call it a counselor, these are not the the setting or conditions in which to teach. It hurts the students and the teachers themselves."

Vala called the plan vague and said when 1 P.M. comes and the regular school day is over and the new extended day programming begins, the status of the teacher will be degraded.

It is estimated that the programs' afternoon instructional staff will grow over the next five years to about 15,000, the equivalent of about 20% of the country's current elementary school teaching staff.

School children
Tomer Appelbaum
Student teachers protesting on Tuesday against planned Education Ministry reforms.
Tomer Appelbaum