Elementary school parents continue to disrupt school schedules across the country and demonstrated in front of the Knesset on Monday morning in a struggle to lower class sizes to a maximum of 32 pupils.
MK Gila Gamliel (Likud), senior citizens, young people, and gender equality minister, joined one of the protests outside an elementary school in Tel Aviv Sunday morning, stating on her public Facebook profile that “this phenomenon is not the problem of one area or another in Israel, but, rather, it’s a national calamity.”
Gamliel spoke in support of the proposed legislation by MK Yoav Kisch (Likud), put forward by Kisch on Thursday, to limit class sizes to 32 students.
In Kisch’s statement from Thursday, he said: “We will recruit the Knesset to the struggle, my bill on the matter will be presented very soon to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation – during the current [Knesset] session.”
Members of the Forum of Regional Parents Unions, the force behind the wave of school disruptions in protest of classroom size, demonstrated outside the Knesset Monday morning.
Paz Cohen, a member of the Forum of Regional Parents Unions and the chair of the Jerusalem Parents Union, spoke to The Jerusalem Post at the demonstration Monday morning.
“Next year there are going to be even more classrooms across Israel with 40 pupils in a class, and this situation is an intolerable situation,” he said.
“Each class has one teacher, 45 minutes a lesson, with 40 students – it’s barely a minute [of attention] for each pupil.”
While a parents’ strike for elementary school pupils is tough on parents, who have to take time off work to be with their young children, Cohen says it’s a worthy cause.
“Students disappear. Parents know this and parents care,” he said, adding: “It’s obvious to all of us that the larger the classroom size, the lower the quality of the education.”
“In 2008 the government made a decision [to lower class sizes]. The government hasn’t implemented that decision, and now we have classes with close to 40 pupils, and there are even some with as many as 42,” Cohen explained.
After the public protest over overcrowding last year, then-education minister Shai Piron commissioned the Simchon Committee to research the issue.
The committee came to the conclusion that there should be a maximum of 32 pupils in a class, but, Cohen said, the report has not yet been published and the Education Ministry has not implemented the findings.
“[The Education Ministry] is still trying to merge classes, meaning there will be classes as large as 40 pupils next year.
It drags on and on, and if the public pressure doesn’t continue, we’ll end up next year with larger classes and less quality education,” Cohen said.
Cohen said that pupils themselves complain about the situation.
“Children disappear, the ones whose voices are not heard, and they become invisible in class and at school,” he explained.
The children feel the lack of space, the lack of warmth from the teachers, and the lack of a personal relationship with them, Cohen added.
Merav Sternberg, a mother of two children, one of whom is in first grade with 31 pupils in her class, is very worried about growing class sizes. She spoke to the Post on Monday after attending the demonstration.
“In the grade above my daughter, two classes were merged into one large class of 39 students. Piron initiated the Simchon Report, which recommends 32 children in a class,” she said.
“Physically, the classrooms aren’t built for the overcrowding we’re seeing today,” Sternberg added. “Children come home with marks on their arms and legs from sitting in a tight spot in the classroom.”
Sternberg said that adding nine pupils to her daughter’s class would make the physical conditions impossible, and she added that in higher grades the situation is even worse, as pupils are taller and larger.
“There’s no way to give the personal attention children in elementary school need,” she said.
“The teachers are also hurt by having classes that are so large – it’s impossible for even the best teacher to educate such a large class,” Sternberg said.
She added that parents who can afford private or semi-private schools pay for extra classes, and it affects the quality of education the pupils receive.
“This problem is widening the gap between the socioeconomic levels,” she explained.
“[Education Minister Naftali] Bennett speaks about the poor state of the pupils’ achievements on the standardized testing scores, but how can he expect students to succeed when the physical conditions of their schools is overcrowded and unfit?” asked Sternberg.
Sternberg also related that there is a social aspect to the problem. Merging classrooms, she says, yanks pupils out of their social circles and makes it difficult for them to fit in in their new surroundings.
All the state-funded elementary schools in Jerusalem, along with schools from the Binyamin Regional Council and Ramat Gan, held strikes on Monday.
Classroom disruptions are scheduled throughout the week in Beersheba, Menashe Regional Council, Beit Dagan, Lev Hasharon, Netanya, Petah Tikva, Ariel, Shimon Regional Council and Be’er Ya’acov.