Olmert: Our security depends on education

Olmert praises schools' "high" levels, Netanyahu: I'll restore Jabotinsky to curriculum, remove nakba.

Olmert cabinet frowns 22 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Olmert cabinet frowns 22
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A day before the planned start of the new school year, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stressed the importance of Israeli education and praised its high level of achievement. "Israel's security, future and existence depend, first and foremost, on education," Olmert said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. "There is nothing more fashionable, unfair and incorrect than saying that Israel's education system has been destroyed, even though there may be room for improvement." "For the last two years, I've toured many of our schools with and without the education minister and I saw that in all our educational institutions, including many schools that can be improved, we have schools that are of the highest level with the highest levels of achievement and quality imaginable," he continued. Olmert said that the government had invested great efforts in improving Israeli education. "This government has dealt with the education issue almost more than anything else - not only through resources, which are approaching NIS 30 billion, but also through reforms and the building of new classrooms, including in the Arab sector," he said. In particular, Olmert hailed Education Minister Yuli Tamir's New Horizon reform plan. "It is not just a slogan but it is a new approach, a different attitude and emphasis," he said. "We must make the most of the education system's potential to restore its position and success we have been proud of for many years," the prime minister declared, adding that "the finance minister is displaying greater investment and concern than in the past." The New Horizon plan will focus on smaller classes and greater informal interaction between teachers and students. Class size will be reduced to 32 pupils across 600 schools and regular class time will be supplemented with studies in small groups, focusing on skills like reading and writing. New teachers' salaries will rise to NIS 5,300 gross a month and an experienced teacher participating in the 'New Horizon' plan could make as much as NIS 15,000 a month. Two thousand new teachers will be added to help implement the reform, while veteran teachers will undergo retraining. Meanwhile, opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu repeated that as prime minister, he would "remove the 'nakba' (catastrophe) from the education system and restore Jabotinsky." Netanyahu was referring to the decision by Tamir to include the Palestinian account of the War of Independence in the curriculum of Arab Israeli schools. During a press conference in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu stated that in "the last mathematics Olympics, even Iran beat us. It's a matter of national strength and national security." The opposition leader said it was a "realistic goal" to restore Israel's children to the top ten in the world within a decade. Netanyahu said he would seek to establish a special "education cabinet" to remove "obstacles" to reforms.