Speaking at the Sixth Herzliya Conference on Sunday, Prof. Uriel Reichman expounded upon his educational agenda, and on what he plans to do if Kadima wins the March 28 election and he receives the education portfolio promised him by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"I am not a politician, but rather a man who has founded and led an academic institution," said Reichman, the founder and president of The Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
"This will be the first time the education minister won't have come from politics," he said. In anticipation of the elections Reichman will resign next month from the prestigious private college he founded 12 years ago.
In his speech at the Herzliya Conference, Reichman underscored the importance of education as an essential component of Israel's national security, citing data concerning the growing gap in educational achievement between the country's socioeconomic groups. He also noted the low level of achievement of Israeli students in general in relation to students in OECD countries, despite the relatively large economic resources funneled into the Israeli education system.
"In a world of global competition, human quality and knowledge have a direct influence on the economic future of a given society," he said. "An educational setback in relation to other countries means an economic setback tomorrow." Reichman also expressed his overall approval of the Dovrat Reform initiated by former education minister Limor Livnat, and indicated that the conclusions of the Dovrat Committee, which have sparked much controversy since their publication last year, would be the guidelines for Kadima's educational approach.
He also stressed, however, that - unlike Livnat's attempt to implement the reform - his own attempt would be based on a dialogue with the teachers' unions.
Reichman decried the unacceptably low salaries of Israeli teachers, and argued that it was impossible to hope for a solid education system under such conditions.
A beginning teacher with a college degree, Reichman pointed out, today earns NIS 2,800 a month.
"How can we attract good people to become teachers with such a low income, and how can teachers receive esteem, in today's material society, under these conditions?" he said.
In addition, Reichman called for a revolution in the relationship between parents and the school system, arguing that many parents unjustly put the full responsibility for their children's education on their teachers.
"The educational system must reorganize itself so that there is a real and caring partnership between parents and teachers," he said, giving as an example databases that will allow parents to keep track of their children's achievements.
Reichman also supported another principle of the Dovrat Reform - the unprecedented powers of school principals in hiring and firing hiring teachers, planning and budgeting.
In addition, he said he expected universities and other academic institutions to take an active part in the raising of standards of teachers' colleges.
"I believe that over the course of the next four years we will be able to reach the one thousand schools with the lowest levels of scholastic achievement, located in communities suffering the most economic hardship, and to create an extensive program that will lead their children to higher levels of achievement, thus reducing the educational and social gaps in Israel," he said.