Bennett to spend NIS 1 billion on special needs pupils

Minister decries decrease in math study as a national threat.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett announces small classroom reform (photo credit: SASSON TIRAM)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett announces small classroom reform
(photo credit: SASSON TIRAM)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett unveiled a raft of initiatives within the education system on Monday, ahead of the beginning of the school year next week, including a massive boost in funding for making classrooms more accessible for disabled and special needs pupils.
The initiative was announced during a special session of the Knesset Education, Culture, and Sports Committee held at the Education Ministry in Jerusalem on Monday morning. During the meeting, Bennett also gave notice of a drive to increase the study of math for the highschool diploma, as well as plans to provide extra funding and support for kindergartens.
The minister added that the budget of the Education Ministry had risen to NIS 50 billion.
The new Equal Opportunity program for special needs children will see NIS 945 million invested in providing greater accessibility to schools and classrooms, including NIS 135m. to be spent this coming year.
These funds will be used to create 1,000 “acoustic” classrooms for pupils with hearing difficulties and will also go toward the building of ramps, elevators, and other facilities for the disabled in schools so that children will not need to be lifted or manhandled. Tablet computers are to be purchased to assist children with vision disabilities.
In addition to the new funds for disabled pupils, Bennett said that 300 new grade one classrooms will be opened in order to limit the number of pupils per class in the country to between 32 and 34 children.
Within the next five years, the ministry wants to see an overall reduction in the size of classrooms across all elementary school grades, an increase in teaching hours for math and Hebrew, and an increase of 1,000 teachers to provide a second teacher in 1,000 elementary school classrooms In addition, Bennett stated that reforms for increasing the numbers of kindergarten assistants would be fully implemented this year. This will include a second kindergarten assistant for all municipal kindergartens that have more than 30 children, the provision of games and activities for developing motor and cognitive skills, and the creation of “soft corner” areas for kindergartens containing soft mattresses and chairs.
Bennett also described the decrease in pupils taking five units of mathematics for their high-school diploma as “a national threat to the startup nation,” pointing out that between 2006 and 2014 the number of pupils taking such a course-load had decreased by 30 percent, from 13,000 pupils to 8,500.
“Who will found the next Waze? How will we have Nobel Prize winners in 20 years time?” the minister asked.
Bennett said that he intends to more than double the number of pupils taking five units to 18,000 high-school graduates.
“The damage done in the field of mathematics is a threat to the creation of knowledge that Israel exports,” Bennett said. “The future of the State of Israel depends on the development of quality human capital,” he continued, pointing to Israel’s hi-tech sector which he said was dependent on the creation of knowledge that requires aptitude in mathematics.
He also said that the ministry would promote a program for reinforcing written Hebrew skills, which he said are at risk due to the phenomenon of social networking, and introduce Arabic as an obligatory subject from pre-school to Grade 12, which the minister said would increase the integration of the Arab sector into Israeli society and the economy.
During the committee hearing, Bennett spoke about the murders of Shira Banki in the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade and Saad Dawabsha, 32, and his toddler son Ali, in an arson attack in the Palestinian village of Duma in July, saying that it had been “a difficult summer.”
In light of these events, the minister said that the first week of the new school year will include a special program for the prevention of racism and violence.
The Education Ministry will provide a series of lessons to state schools in order to “imbue a culture of values-based dialogue, humanism, solidarity, and the acceptance of the other.” Within this week, pupils will examine the phenomenon of racism and incitement in Israeli society, in order to increase awareness of such issues and the possible harm to others that can result from them.