School begins despite budget concerns, strike jitters

back to school 248.88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
back to school 248.88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
The new school year is set to begin Monday morning, despite unfinished safety-code checks in a number of schools and a shaky agreement for security guards set to run out on January 1, the Education Ministry said Sunday. Those two issues, each a source of strike threats in recent weeks, have been more or less taken care of, according to Education Minister Yuli Tamir. Guard contracts have been worked out until the beginning of 2009, and safety code violations have been examined, even as kids shuffle into class at state secular and state religious schools, she said. "Schools are not buildings that can be built and then left alone without the proper check-ups," Tamir told The Jerusalem Post Sunday. "It's a problem, and we're doing all that we can to get on top of it. In any event, the school year will start on time." But Avi Gur, a representative of the Israel Parents Association, told the Post last week that a large number of schools where not up to par, adding that beginning the school year with possible code violations was regrettable. The safety codes cover a number of issues, including structural issues, asbestos levels and the readiness of first-aid supplies. Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu unveiled his proposal for reform of the educational system on Sunday at a press conference in Tel Aviv. In an apparent rebuke of the government's "New Horizon" reform, he said: "The first order of business will be to cut out studies on the Palestinian Nakba Day [marking the 'catastrophe' of the state's creation] and bring back [revisionist leader Ze'ev] Jabotinsky's teachings." Netanyahu called for a "real educational revolution." "I've been meeting with representatives of the various teachers' associations and they all feel it is time for a change... Everyone thinks this change is dependent on budgetary constraints, but I don't think that is the correct approach," he said. "In the last Mathematics Olympics, even Iran did better than us," Netanyahu said, referring to an issue also raised by Tamir at the Prime Minister's Office later in the day. "This is a matter of national resilience, of national security. We rank in the top 30 countries now. The real goal is to have Israel's children back in the top 10 within a decade." He then presented his five-step plan. "First, we must have better teachers; we must invest in their training and increase their pay. "Second - we have to let the administrators administrate. Every great school system in the world allows its headmasters some independence. We have to make sure headmasters receive management training and give them partial responsibility over the budget. The third step will be to redirect our focus to the most important core studies." "Fourth, the world's most successful nations do not allow the weak to fall behind. Every child is different, but you can push everyone to excel on their level. "And fifth, we need to teach educational values; not just those pertaining to good citizenship, Zionism and democracy, but also discipline and respect, which must be shown to teachers and principles." "I am committed to truly revolutionizing the education system, and I will make it the first priority the Likud-led government will have," Netanyahu said. But Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who dedicated Sunday's cabinet meeting to the beginning of the new school year, defended the Education Ministry and its New Horizon plan. "We are proud of the New Horizon initiative," Olmert said. "It's so much more than a slogan; this is about a new conception, a new approach and different accents. We must tap into the potential of our educational system to reclaim its status. There in nothing anyone can say; this is our main accomplishment." "This government," he said, "has probably devoted more time to education than to anything else; not only when it came to resources - which neared NIS 30 billion [in the draft 2009 state budget], but also when it came to implementing reforms and building more classrooms, in the Arab sector, as well." "Israel's safety, security and existence are first and foremost dependent on education," Olmert said. "There is nothing more fashionable these days than saying that our educational system is in a shambles, but that is untrue and unfair. Our schools are up to the highest standards."