Uniforms and Meals Won't Help the Schools

Has anyone calculated how much the level of achievement could be raised in peripheral regions and low-income neighborhoods with the NIS 2 billion that the school lunch project would cost?

In 1964, 13-year-old Israeli pupils were ranked in the top spot on examinations that tested the mathematical and scientific knowledge of pupils from 12 different Western countries. In 2000, 13-year-old Israeli pupils received the lowest scores of all. Our school system is also the most polarized. The gaps in achievements between rich and poor pupils, between veteran Israelis and new immigrants, and between Jews and Arabs, are the highest in the Western world.

The easiest response is to claim - and this is what Limor Livnat and all of the education ministers before her have been wont to do - that the low achievements are the result of inadequate budgets. But this is not the case. In fact, there is money.

Any international comparison shows that the budgetary outlay on education per pupil is higher in Israel than in most Western states. The problem lies in management - in the immense inherent waste and inefficiency of the system.

That being the case, it would be worth taking another look at three proposals for changes in the education system, which are currently on the agenda. The first is the recommendation of the Dovrat Commission to raise teachers' wages while simultaneously increasing the number of hours they work, such that they would be in school every day from 8 A.M to 4 P.M.

Anyone who chose to go into teaching knew that he or she was choosing a profession that benefits from a great deal of leisure time, and an income that is not high. He or she opted for the economic and personal advantages afforded by the short workdays and the long vacations. Once teachers are forced to work every day until four o'clock, the salary increase will not be able to compensate for the eradication of the significant benefits, and the profession will attract even fewer good people - the exact opposite of the Dovrat Commission's goal.

The second subject is the establishment of a national school lunch project. Such an enterprise already existed 30 years ago, but then everyone begged for it to be closed. It requires an immense investment in management, employees, equipment, dining halls, hauling and distribution, with the outcome being unappetizing food that most of the pupils do not want to eat. Instead of engaging in education, the teachers will busy themselves with logistics, warming or cooling of food, cleaning up, rotation assignments and collecting money from the parents who will, in the end, pay for the "project."

Instead of dealing with the low achievements in direct fashion, they instead deal with something that everyone understands: food. Are there genuinely so many children that go hungry? And if so, what will they do during school vacation?

In any event, hungry children should be treated in a direct manner, through the Social Affairs Ministry, and not by turning the school into a soup kitchen. Has anyone calculated how much the level of achievement could be raised in peripheral regions and low-income neighborhoods with the NIS 2 billion that the school lunch project would cost?

The third subject now under discussion is the school uniform. Once again, an extraneous matter that is not substantive to the real problem of the low level of achievements. Backers of this initiative, including Livnat, see the school uniform as a sort of wonder solution to over-permissiveness, to the waste involved in buying expensive name brands and as a way to shape a group identity for the school.

Once again, an idea that would send the schools 30 years back in time, to a practice that was tried and that failed. The school uniform would not prevent "permissiveness." Nor would it prevent the purchase of expensive jeans, various accessories and ostentatious shoes. A school uniform would not eliminate gaps. It would not stop a high-school senior from driving home in an SUV. It would only cause a never-ending struggle between teachers and pupils over every skirt, would divert precious administrative resources from the real objectives of the school, and would thereby contribute to a crumbling of authority and discipline.

Nor would a school uniform save the parents any money. On the contrary, it would do nothing to preclude the purchase of new clothes, and would only add a few more "uniforms" to the clothes closet. And in general, why suppress the individualism that is expressed though clothing? Do we want a squared-off, uniform education system, or do we want children like those in Pink Floyd's film "The Wall"?