Coronavirus: Here is what Israel’s schools could look like in Sept. 2020

Education Ministry sets strategy for preparing for the '20-'21 school year in the shadow of COVID-19.

FILE PHOTO: Parents wait with their children to enter their elementary school in Sderot as it reopens following the ease of restrictions preventing the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Israel May 3, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN/FILE PHOTO)
FILE PHOTO: Parents wait with their children to enter their elementary school in Sderot as it reopens following the ease of restrictions preventing the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Israel May 3, 2020
Despite the desire for a full return to routine in the fall, as schools closed this week and summer camps opened, the Education Ministry disseminated to administrators the first part of a coronavirus strategic plan for the upcoming school year.
“The analysis of the present-day reality requires us to prepare for a school year in the shadow of coronavirus,” wrote former Education Ministry director-general Shmuel Abuhav, who prepared the report as he was preparing to step down from his role.
The plan requires schools to prepare for three scenarios: a full closure – closing all schools or a single school due to infection; an integrated model – combining distance and frontal learning; and a “coronavirus routine” – operating schools under the full list of Health Ministry directives.
“The system experienced all these scenarios in the past year,” wrote Abuhav. “We’ve been down this path and now we have to learn, improve and plan based on that experience… We are aware of the time constraints.”
The document calls on schools to plan to be flexible in 2020 and to understand that unlike in previous years, the guidelines will not be published in one document but could be rolled out over time through various platforms.
As part of the flexible planning process for the next school year, the ministry is asking schools to 1) identify lessons learned from the first wave, 2) identify strengths and areas of improvement and 3) identify work mechanisms and processes that require designing or improvement.
“Map the gaps in student abilities, learning habits and knowledge levels to create a program that can function next year,” the document instructs. “Sharpen the school’s compass, prioritizing the school’s main objectives… Prepare for various scenarios and create action plans for each of them.”
At the same time, it recommends evaluating the ability of the educational staff, including their proficiency in the use of digital tools for distance learning and their ability to handle the emotional challenges of teaching under the shadow of corona.
“The ministry has been preparing for a full set of online professional development tools,” the report states.
Finally, it calls on schools to come up with a school-parent communication plan.
Even if distance learning is instituted, schools will be required to maintain a minimum amount of hours of learning per day and per week in all subjects. The ministry divided the curriculum into clusters by type of school – secular, religious, Arab and Druze. Compulsory or core curriculum content makes up 70% of studies, with the other 30% for enrichment subjects.
For example, secular elementary school students are required to learn between 29 and 32 hours per week depending on the grade. In first grade, 15 hours should be spent on language, heritage, society and spirit. Eight hours should be spent on culture and lifestyle and six on math and science. A similar breakdown exists for religious first graders, except in those schools, five hours is to be allotted to Jewish studies, reducing language, heritage, society and spirit studies to 12 hours and culture and lifestyle to six.
During negotiations earlier this year between the Education Ministry and theTeachers' Association of Israel and Teachers’ Union, an agreement was made that an hour of distance learning would be paid equivalent to an hour of classroom learning.  
Finally, the ministry notes that “maintaining the health and well-being of students in the education system is a key element of distance-learning,” which must be especially emphasized during the period of coronavirus. “Special emphasis should be placed on day-to-day conduct and school routines,” the report concluded.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also made recommendations about how to design schools in the coming year. At a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset last month, he said that he would encourage schools to partition the desks with plexiglass dividers in the fall, based on a recommendation by the National Security Council.
At the end of the ‘19-’20 school year, a battle between over when the last day of school would be for students erupted between the ministry and the association and union.
The ministry wanted teachers to work an extra nine days to help make up for the days missed when schools closed at the peak of the pandemic and to help keep the economy open after the lockdown. The teachers pushed back and ultimately won in court and school ended on time.
The report is meant to help preempt these kinds of challenges, as well.
On Thursday evening, the Education Ministry reported that there were 1,162 students and teachers infected with the coronavirus and 24,577 in isolation.