School children in class.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The cabinet on Sunday unanimously approved a plan presented by Education Minister Naftali Bennett to reduce elementary school class sizes.
The decision will set a cap of 34 pupils per class, to be implemented nationwide within five years.
“We made history,” Bennett said on Sunday. “This is tremendous news for the children of Israel.”
The government approval follows the announcement by the education minister in August of the “Small Class Reform” plan.
The plan has already gone into effect for first-grade classes across the country in the 2015/16 school year and will expand every year to include an additional grade until all elementary school grades are included.
“Already today in first grades, on average, there are 28 children per classroom. This, compared to the previous limit, which stood at 40 children per classroom,” Bennett said.
“In the next five years we will carry out the decision, beginning from first grade up to sixth grade,” he said. “This is a real revolution with regards to the personal attention received by each child in the State of Israel.”
Israel lags behind other Western countries in regards to class size.
According to the latest 2014 OECD report on education, Israel is ranked among the bottom of OECD countries with an average of 27-28 pupils per class in elementary schools, compared to 21 per class among member countries.
According to the Education Ministry, the decision is part of a systemic reform undertaken to “convert the pyramid” – setting the education and needs of younger children as a priority.
The decision also aims to “raise the quality of learning and improve student achievements” among elementary school pupils.
In August, as a complement to the class reduction plan, the Education Ministry announced a pilot program to add assistant teachers to classrooms three days a week.
Beginning in the 2015/16 academic year, some 1,000 classes around the country – from preschool through high school – have added a student teacher, a third-year education student, in addition to the primary teacher.
The aim is to improve the student- to-teacher ratio, as well as to provide a younger generation of student teachers with real world experience and on the job training.
Yonit Yona, a third-grade teacher from Ramat Gan, recently told Channel 2 News that having a second teacher in her classroom “really helps.”
“You are not alone in the classroom and with the number of pupils in classes, and in this class specifically, 36 pupils in the class, it allows me some air and lets me reach each pupil,” she said.
“The responsibility of Sivan [the assistant teacher] is the same as mine... and all the children know this,” Yona said. “The word really is cooperation and team work.”
The Education Ministry will, throughout the year, evaluate the benefits to the children in order to decide whether to expand the program to additional schools.