Coronavirus: Israel’s Education system to open in full on Sunday

“The natural place for students is in school."

STUDENTS WEARING face masks return to school at Gabrieli Carmel School in Tel Aviv in February. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
STUDENTS WEARING face masks return to school at Gabrieli Carmel School in Tel Aviv in February.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
After more than a year at home, Israel’s children will return to full-time frontal learning on Sunday.
The government approved in principle the Health Ministry’s “Adjusted” Defending Education program, which will remove all capsules and will provide a wide range of testing and monitoring across the country’s educational system to detect coronavirus outbreaks. When a student tests positive, the entire class and teaching staff will be tested for coronavirus before returning to their classrooms, in addition to obligatory isolation.
There will be no limit on the transfer of teachers and aides between classrooms or schools.
According to the plan, the non-formal education system, as well as the higher education system, will continue to operate in the existing format and will only be brought up for discussion again next week.
“The natural place for students is in school,” Education Minister Yoav Gallant tweeted Monday evening. “These are our children and the future generation of the State of Israel.”
He wrote that he “welcomes the fact that the healthcare system has finally woken up and understood the importance of classroom learning for students and their families.”
Gallant and the heads of the local authorities had been pushing to reopen schools in full after Independence Day, which takes place on Thursday.
“Better late than never," he wrote.
The move comes after Israel’s students stayed at home for the better part of the last year and amid declining infection rates in the country and the school system.
Only 877 students were infected with coronavirus out of more than 2.4 million children, the Education Ministry reported. In addition, there were 99 members of the educational staff infected, it said.
Total morbidity in the educational system has been concentrated in 10% of schools, the Education Ministry reported Monday. Of those schools with infection, the majority (70%) have only one verified case.
Out of 5,200 schools, none of them are closed because of infection. There has been a 95% drop in isolated children in the last month.
On the other hand, the impact of distance learning has taken a toll on the country’s youth.
According to the same Education Ministry report, there has been a 30% decrease in basic skills among first- through third-graders, and a gap of about 30% has developed in the core subjects, such as math and English, among students in grades 7-10.
Students have decreased motor and physical skills, and school counselors reported that one in three students was suffering from emotional distress and that there is a 25% increase in risk assessments for suicide by educational psychologists.
About 30% of students do not participate in their distance-learning courses on a consistent basis, the report said.
Parents reacted to the news that school would resume with mixed emotions.
“On the one hand, I am happy because they are going to go back to see their friends and learn together,” said Nitza Raymond, a mother of three from Jerusalem. “On the other hand, there is still a fear of coronavirus – especially since two of [our children] are not yet vaccinated. We are high-risk, and there are children who do not really put on their masks and who behave less carefully.”
 Another mother, Yonina Libin from Jerusalem, told The Jerusalem Post she was just “really looking forward to some routine.”
There are only two months left in the school year, which usually ends for middle schoolers on June 20 and elementary schoolers on June 30.
Shortly before the March 23 election, the government reviewed a NIS 2.5 billion four-stage plan for bridging the educational, social and emotional gaps plaguing students.
The first stage involved extending the school year through the end of July.
However, the budget for the plan never passed, and it is still unclear if the school year will be extended.
The government on Monday night also agreed to extend existing transportation regulations until April 29 and the Purple Ribbon program for businesses until May 12. 
Finally, the government voted to establish a testing complex outside the terminal. The Finance, Transportation, Health, Economy and Tourism ministries will all be involved in discussing the details of a tender. Until then, airport testing will continue in its current format under the auspices of the Omega company.