The Education Struggle Must Not Fail

Everyone touts education as a top priority, while suffocating it with deficits; everyone complains about the state of education, as if discussing dreary weather, without lifting a finger to fix it.

If it's true, as the Hebrew saying goes, that "a lie has no legs," how is the lie still wandering from one end of the country to the other, and how is it skipping over the mountains and leaping over the hills without tiring? In Israel, when you cut off a lie's legs, it sprouts new ones and keeps going.

How many times has it been argued, for example, that spending per student in Israel is inferior compared with most developed countries? It has been argued again and again, to no avail. Year after year, the treasury's bureaucrats, aided by a battery of academics, launch an all-out assault and aren't satisfied until the education budget has been trimmed once more.

Not long ago the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a report that contained the following "shocking" information: Annual spending per high school student in Israel is $6,066 compared with an international average of $7,276. Spending on preschool and elementary school students is also lower. And yes, Israeli classrooms are among the most crowded in the world - with an average of 27 students versus 22 in other developed countries. The crowding in middle schools is even worse, and given the forecast for construction, there is no chance of improvement in the near future.

Israel's teachers do their best to function in this wretched reality, while earning lower pay than their colleagues in other countries. Now it has been confirmed; even those who didn't know, who insisted on not knowing, can no longer plead ignorance. And when we say "lower," we mean significantly lower: $25,131 for the Israeli teacher at the highest level of promotion, compared with an average of $45,666 in the OECD countries.

The disseminators of the lies will never apologize, never right their wrongs, never ask forgiveness, never support the teachers in their unavoidable strike. They're not about to be distracted by any findings.

Nor will the lie stop at higher education. Members of the Shochat Committee spoke about a growing trend around the world to raise tuition at universities and colleges, and their recommendations fit this trend. They didn't bother to say that in most of the countries surveyed, tuition has not yet risen, and certainly hasn't doubled as they tried to argue. In the Czech Republic, Denmark, Ireland, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Germany and other countries, university students don't pay any tuition. In Belgium and France they pay $500, in Italy $1,100, in New Zealand and Holland $1,500, in England $1,800 and in Israel $3,000 - before the tuition hike.

The students won't be the only ones left helpless next week when the academic year begins (if it isn't delayed by a strike, too). The institutions of higher education face a similar plight: Studies show that public spending in Israel on higher education has been steadily declining (with private spending rising accordingly). In 2004, it had plunged to 49.6 percent. Perhaps only now that the situation is starting to affect the universities and learned professors themselves will their corrosive cooperation with the treasury end, which is slandering the entire education system.

This is how the situation looks right now, and there is no way to prettify it.

Everyone touts education as a top priority, while suffocating it with deficits; everyone complains about the state of education, as if discussing dreary weather, without lifting a finger to fix it. We have yet to see all the teachers, regardless of which union they belong to, all the local-authority heads, regardless of which party they belong to, and all the parents, students and powerful workers' committees join forces to help those fighting to save education.

The government may not know how to rule, but it does know how to divide, and without a broad salvation front, education in this country doesn't stand a chance. Each one in turn will mouth the popular folk tune "Nothing is more important to us than our children," but this lip service will not be of any use.

The teachers and university students must not be left alone in the battle, which is not theirs alone, and the struggle must not fail this time. The defeated teacher does not teach and the embarrassed student does not learn. And no deprived public will rise if the teachers fall.