Education Minister Naftali Bennett announces small classroom reform.
(photo credit: SASSON TIRAM)
After months of promising to deal with overcrowding in elementary school classrooms in the face of protests, strikes and threats to delay the opening of the school year, the “Small Class Reform” was announced by Education Minister Naftali Bennett at a press conference on Thursday morning.
“Today the sardines are freed from their tin can,” announced Bennett, adding that “we promised to take care of it, and we took care of it.”
After a long night of budget discussions, Bennett boasted about the NIS 50 billion education budget, saying it is the largest such allotment in the history of the state.
“This is the age of education,” Bennett said, explaining that the reform mandates a maximum of 32-34 pupils, depending on the socioeconomic strength of the school district.
The plan will go into effect for first grade classes across the country in the upcoming 2015/16 school year and will expand every year to include an additional grade until all six elementary school grades are included.
Bennett stressed that he was not canceling the budget that allows first and second grade classes to divide into two smaller groups for learning mathematics and language lessons, and that he understands their importance.
The education minister also announced a new pilot project that will add assistant teachers to classrooms three days a week.
In the upcoming school year, 1,000 classes will have a student teacher in addition to the primary teacher. Classrooms across the country – from preschool through high school – will be part of the pilot program, during which the Education Ministry will evaluate the benefits to the classes and decide on the future of the program.
“First of all, there will be more attention for the students,” explained Bennett, who explained that it will act as “on-the-job training” and evaluation for student teachers.
The program is also meant to strengthen ties between teacher-training colleges and nearby schools.
Just a few months ago, Bennett – along with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon – introduced the NIS 400 million “Second Assistant Reform” for preschools, in which classrooms for kids ages three-four will receive a second assistant if there are 30 or more children.
Bennett announced at the press conference Thursday that the sign-up rate for preschools joining that reform is almost 100 percent and it will also launch this fall.
“We are turning the pyramid upside down – for years we have been talking about the importance of focusing on younger children,” he said.
“Today we’re not just talking, we’re making the changes.”
Michal Cohen, director-general of the Education Ministry, explained at the press conference that the two reforms complement each other, and that starting the small classroom reform in first grade will help ease pupils’ transition from preschool to first grade.
The approximately NIS 500m. price tag for the reform is part of the base education budget agreed upon with the Finance Ministry during budget talks.
Bennett emphasized that while he is focusing his attentions on younger pupils, it is not coming at the expense of junior high and high school students, and this budget has not changed the amount of money invested in the higher grades.
“A good teacher needs twoway education,” Bennett said.
“A teacher needs to look into the eyes of the pupils... We are giving teachers this tool so they can be more attentive.”