While Monday marked the last day of the school year for kindergarten and elementary school pupils, many parents throughout the country remained concerned regarding their children’s future education.
A nationwide movement – dubbed the “sardine protest” – has in recent months garnered considerable support among parents who are protesting their children’s learning conditions in overcrowded classrooms.
The protest launched earlier this year, following the decision by the Education Ministry not to allow the opening of additional classrooms by wealthier local authorities, who were willing to fund the extra costs in an attempt to reduce overcrowding.
The ministry ordered local authorities to maintain the national standard of up to 40 children per class and directed the opening of new classes only if the number of pupils exceeded this number. The rationale behind this decision was to maintain equality between the wealthy and disadvantaged municipalities, who did not have the means to sustain additional classrooms.
In addition, the ministry expressed concern for the violation of employment rights of teachers, saying classes funded by local authorities were generally staffed with teachers hired outside the ministry framework.
This decision was further backed by the High Court of Justice, which upheld the ministry’s decision.
However, parents of the Sardine Protest are claiming this is not an elitist cause, but rather a middle class movement affecting children in schools throughout the country.
“This struggle is a middle generation struggle for our children. The middle class struggle is one for all our future. Any actions testify to this initiative. We are all for our children, and would very much like to believe that you are too,” the organizers of the protest posted on their Facebook page on Monday.
The official page called “the struggle for reducing crowding in classrooms” has gained 19,000 likes.
On Friday and Sunday, as part of the protest, parents disrupted learning in elementary schools around the country for one hour and demonstrated with their children outside their schools. Among the cities where protests took place were Modi’in, Holon, Kidron, Kfar Saba, Ganei Tikva and Tel Aviv.
“The demonstration is intended to convey a message to the Education Ministry that parents are determined in this struggle and will not give up on the issue of the class size in schools,” said Yaniv Shachar, head of the PTA in Ganei Tikva during a protest on Sunday.
“If the Education Ministry will not come to its senses, the national campaign headquarters are determined to continue fighting and if there is no choice we will reach the point of striking classes at the beginning of the upcoming school year,” he said.
Last week the issue reached the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee, where Education Minister Shai Piron announced that in the upcoming school year a ministry panel would examine the issue of classroom overcrowding. He added that one of the main goals will be to increase the ratio of teachers to students in the 2015/16 academic year.
However, the minister asserted he would not allow an exacerbation of social gaps within the education system to become one where those with means would receive better learning conditions.
“I came here so that we can become a model society, and it will not be one if there are social gaps,” Piron said. “We cannot live in a country where a child faces a glass ceiling because of the area where he was born, his parents’ salary slip or his parents’ origins.
To achieve social solidarity we must allow each child to reach his maximum potential even if he was not born to established parents.
“We cannot solve these problems in an instant,” he said.
The Education Ministry however, announced that in the coming year classes that had already been opened would be allowed to continue to operate.
“Everyone who will call me from every school – we will try to assist. We are not looking for blood, but an ethical obligation,” Piron said.