The Long School Day and the Short School Week

Three months ago the Education Ministry hired Dr Yaakov Sheinin, the CEO of Economic Models, to study - from the economic viewpoint in particular - the transition to a short school week.

Using international comparisons, he found that all but two of the countries in the OECD (Organization for Economic and Development Cooperation), have a short school week. In almost all of them, there is a parallel long school day. The OECD groups 30 member countries in a forum to discuss, develop and refine global economic and social policies.

In Israel the current situation is different. In most schools where a shorter school week was introduced, the school day was lengthened by just one hour a day. The long school day, despite being anchored in law, has been implemented in only 41 of the 100 local councils that are supposed to have it.

Another oddity is that, only a week after the Education Ministry turned to the Knesset Education Committee to approve the shorter school week, it is sending it another proposal - to postpone the long school day until 2010.

This apparent contradiction is because the ministry is just putting out fires and not making organized structural changes. The regulations on the shorter school week govern an existing situation in which 83 schools have implemented it but the laws have not been adjusted. Regulations postponing it until 2010 aim to protect the ministry from contempt of court.

In addition, the 2005 state budget does not contain provisions for a long school day in additional communities in the next school year or the one after it. However, it is possible that if a new collective agreement is signed with the teachers' unions on the basis of the Dovrat commission next May, the ministry budget will be adjusted.

The transition to a five-day school week came at the initiative not of the ministry but of local government. Its basis was economic - a short school week would save the councils NIS 70 million in transportation costs and NIS 80 million in school administrative staff. The ministry would save similar amounts.

A long school day, on the other hand, would require NIS 3.6 billion a year at least, part of which would have to be funded by local councils.

Two weeks ago, the ministry was forced to admit in court that it is implementing a long school day in fewer than a third of the kindergartens in which it is supposed to.

Yehuda Amihai, one of the petitioners against the ministry, said some of the local councils have tried to force parents to pay for the extra school hours because they do not have funds. Thus some children in Sderot and Ofakim go home at 4 P.M. while others, whose parents can't afford to pay, are sent home at 1 P.M.