Education Ministry official: We don’t produce computers

As classrooms set to open next week, many will fail to achieve COVID-19 distance learning outline.

Israeli children in second grade (7 - 8 years old) using computers in a class room during a lesson at the "Janusz Korczak" school  in Jerusalem. May 17, 2011. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/FLASH90)
Israeli children in second grade (7 - 8 years old) using computers in a class room during a lesson at the "Janusz Korczak" school in Jerusalem. May 17, 2011.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/FLASH90)
With the school year set to begin on September 1, hundreds of thousands of Israeli children will not be able to study remotely because they do not have computers.
In 1996, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said every Israeli child would have a computer some day.
When Education Minister Yoav Gallant addressed the Knesset Education Committee this month, he said the solutions for offering Israeli children remote-learning options during COVID-19 “won’t be perfect.”
“We didn’t buy any computers or smartphones yet because we didn’t have the budget to do it,” Ofer Rimon, the Education Ministry’s deputy head of remote learning, told The Jerusalem Post. “We don’t produce computers.”
“What we have been doing is to create a team of 15 persons who are in touch with 256 local councils and discuss with each school in the country what their needs are, so that the second the budget is wired we can run with it,” he said.
“Don’t forget, after the first wave of making sure schools and students have such means, we will need to hand out more because there will be gaps between what we know now and the reality on the ground,” Rimon said. “We’re preparing for that too; we’re talking about 5,200 schools.”
The ministry intended to purchase 72,000 computers by the end of the first semester and the rest by the end of the school year. It also intended to fully sponsor purchases for local councils that do not have the means. The goal is having one computer for every four students. More-affluent local councils will pitch in for 15% of the cost.
In addition to allowing students to borrow a school-owned computer for home study, each class is meant to have a computer, a high-speed Web connection and access to advanced educational programs, including online content and programs to help teachers monitor the progress of each student, Rimon said.
Among Arab-Israeli students, 120,000 do not have a home computer. Among haredi (ultra-Orthodox) students, 127,000 do not have one. The ministry intends to meet that demand by buying 64,000 “kosher” smartphones, which are blocked from non-educational usage.
Out of 1,600 haredi schools, about 10% requested to be included in the national outline, and the rest requested that educational content will be provided in an audio format, hence the choice of a smartphone, Rimon said. A third option, a closed network of computers serving only haredi students, was a possible future option, he added.
“We are closely working in dialog with that sector,” Rimon told the Post. “Our goal is not to subdue them with technology. It is to allow them to use technology to teach according to their values in the best way they know how.”
So far, 50,000 education workers underwent training to teach remotely, and 2,500 schools intend to provide their teachers with 30 hours of in-depth training.
“Each child will have a computer,” Netanyahu said in 1996. That goal has not been reached.
Ten years ago, former education minister Gideon Sa’ar launched a NIS 5 billion program designed to reach a ratio of one computer for each four students. The goal was later adjusted to one computer per class, but that landmark was not reached.
Israel faces a general problem with doing “serious long-term work that doesn’t offer immediate political gains,” Shoresh Institution president and Tel Aviv University Prof. Dan Ben-David told the Post.
“All this is happening in a country deeply polarized” between the haves and have-nots, he said, adding: “Let’s say poor people do buy a computer for this school year. What computer will they buy? Will they have high-speed Internet and the programs they need? When the machine freezes, can they fix it? The Education Ministry can’t answer all these issues. You can’t just throw a computer on this complex reality and say, ‘There you go – problem solved.’”
Ben-David cited half a century of failing to bring light-rail service to Tel Aviv.
“We’re good at funding those who scream loudest and exert the most political pressure,” he said. “Long-term planning and implementation has been absent since the 1970s.”