Education Minister: Ultimatums are childish, issue of overcrowding is being addressed

No increase in school prices for upcoming school year.

School children in class (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
School children in class
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett laid out his plans for the education system in an address to the Knesset Education, Culture and Sport Committee on Wednesday, vowing that no child would be left out of school activities because their parents could not afford to pay and stressing the importance of stability and improvement of matriculation scores, not just ensuring that everyone is eligible for a certificate.
He also addressed the “sardine protests,” or school strikes, that peppered the last month of the school year and the threatened strike for the beginning of the upcoming year.
“In the coalition negotiations I had two demands: Ayelet Shaked as justice minister and additional budget to solve the problem of overcrowding [in schools],” he said, but added: “Whoever expects a magic solution knows that isn’t realistic.
Even if there are demonstrations.”
Bennett indicated that, in the periphery, there are already only 32 pupils in a classroom and stated that his plan for smaller classrooms will align with his general differential policy, ensuring that the periphery gets the same benefits as everyone else without paying as much.
“What influences me is what is good for the State of Israel. Ultimatums are childish.
If you want to be populist – not in my school,” he said.
Bennett also spoke about the need for technology in the classroom as a tool, but not as a replacement for teachers.
“There is no replacement for teachers and their love for their students,” he said.
Meanwhile, the committee approved parental payments for the upcoming school year, as submitted by the Education Ministry.
“We approved the parents’ payments with a heavy heart,” said MK Ya’acov Margi (Shas), head of the committee, who called on the ministry to propose a bill that would change the payments into a progressive tax or get rid of them altogether.
The payments, which cover the costs of lending libraries, the culture basket, class parties, class trips and parents’ associations, are equal to those of last year, said Education Ministry director-general Michal Cohen. The proposal also listed the prices for warm lunches.
Cohen detailed areas in which the ministry has expanded services for parents, including free education to three- and four-yearolds and operating summer vacation schools for first and second grades.
According to Assaf Wininger of the Knesset Research and Information Center, just 40 percent of the payments parents make are included in the table brought to the committee, while Dr.
Haran Reichman, a lawyer at the University of Haifa’s law and education policy clinic, claimed the Education Ministry “bypasses parliamentary oversight” and charges as much as NIS 3,450 a year for extra classes, computer tablets and more.
In a related matter, Margi directed the Education Ministry to immediately cease its touch-screen pilot program in schools under which the tablets are bought with money parents pay the school for extra services and supplies.
“Buying tablets under the clause of buying services with parents’ payments is not legal if it is not done only after all the parents have given consent to buy the device,” said Merav Yisraeli, the legal adviser to the committee.
Other tablet-related issues raised included the inequality between students who can afford to pay for the tablet and those who can’t; possible health issues related to radiation; and the lack of evidence that using tablets enhances learning.
The Education Ministry, however, claimed the program is implemented only in schools where at least 70 percent of parents give consent; that radiation levels in 2,500 schools have been checked and no deviation was found; and that it funds tablets for pupils who cannot afford them.
Margi said the state comptroller will be asked to investigate the parents’ claims about the health and pedagogical hazards, as well as the issue of violating equality.