The Israeli school year has officially begun on Thursday, September 1, as 2.5 million children head back into classrooms as they do every year on this date.
However, until Wednesday morning, it was not clear whether or not the school year would actually open on the planned date, due to strikes in the Teachers Union over disagreements with the Finance and Education ministries.
But, due to a last-minute agreement, which will see new teachers paid NIS 9,000 per month and experienced teachers receiving an additional minimum of NIS 1,100 monthly, among other changes, schools across the country opened up to welcome in the new school year.
According to Education Ministry statistics, around 177,000 children will be starting first grade today, and 136,000 will be entering their final year of high school. There are 290,000 students in the special education system, including 114,000 who study in special education institutes, and about 176,000 who attend mainstream schools.
"There is no doubt that there is nothing more joyful than seeing children come to school smiling."Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman
Despite the severe shortages of staff across the entire education system - one of the factors behind the union strikes - there are currently 218,000 teachers employed across Israel, in 22,050 nurseries and 5,440 schools.
Israeli politicians welcome in the new school year
Prime Minister Yair Lapid attended a ceremony at the Nitzanei Hameda Elementary School in Rehovot on Thursday morning, along with Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, to mark the start of school for students entering the first grade.
שנת לימודים מוצלחת לכל תלמידי ישראל pic.twitter.com/W4KiBpDYp5— יפעת שאשא ביטון (@sbyifat) September 1, 2022
"Dear students, we believe in you, and we believe that you are smart and good and that if they give you the route and show you how to navigate it, you will find the things that you are best at," he said, addressing the students.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman visited educational institutions in the Eshkol Regional Council, close to the Gaza Strip, on Thursday morning in honor of the new school year.
"There is no doubt that there is nothing more joyful than seeing children come to school smiling," he said at the start of his visit. "I am very glad that I played a part to see those smiles this morning."
"It was important for me to come here to the Gaza Strip in order to cherish the people who manage to lead a normal life in the most abnormal conditions," he continued. "They deserve attention and of course all the assistance the government is able to give. I am happy to be here with the residents, for whom the last year has been the quietest in many years."
Political figures from across the spectrum also wished a happy new year to children returning to school on Thursday, including Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar who tweeted a photo of himself with his daughter who is set to enter first grade.
עם שירה בתי האהובה, ילדת פלא, שמתחילה היום כיתה א׳. שנת לימודים טובה לכל ילדי ישראל! pic.twitter.com/mZK8bks9hY— Gideon Sa'ar | גדעון סער (@gidonsaar) September 1, 2022
Former prime minister and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu joined in on the congratulations despite not having any school-age children himself, taking to Twitter to wish "good luck to all our beloved students!"
Netanyahu also visited the Hanasi Elementary School in Bat Yam on Thursday morning, meeting with the new students entering first grade.
Sharing a school-themed promotional video for the Labor Party which called for the passing of the free education law for children aged 0-3, Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli wished "a successful school year to all students and parents," on her Twitter account.
שיעורי הבית שלנו.שנת לימודים מוצלחת לכל התלמידות, התלמידים, ההורות וההורים. pic.twitter.com/stmguaclPH— Merav Michaeli מרב מיכאלי (@MeravMichaeli) September 1, 2022
Yesh Atid MK Boaz Toporovsky also took to Twitter, sharing photos of himself together with his children on their way to school, as did Otzma Yehudit chair Itamar Ben-Gvir.
What were the terms of Israel's agreement with the Teachers Union?
Besides the aforementioned pay raise, teachers will receive a one-time NIS 10,000 payment after working three years. Principals will have their salary raised to NIS 19,000 per month. Bonuses of NIS 400 to NIS 1,000 will be offered for teachers with exemplary performance. A number of other bonuses will also be offered, including for kindergarten teachers who have special educational needs children in their classes.
Schools will be open on the day after the holidays of Lag Ba’omer and Purim and instead, those vacation days will be moved to give teachers time off between Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Teachers will also have two vacation days each year that they can use whenever they choose.
Principals will be allowed to hire specialists from outside the education system, and the agreement contains a plan to gradually require all teachers to work as full-time employees and to streamline firing procedures.
Both sides have agreed that the terms of employment will not change before the end of 2026. In return, there will be no strikes at least until that date.
Tzvi Joffre contributed to this report.