Education system prepares to reopen: Smaller classes, no elderly teachers

Earlier on Thursday, the Director-General of the Health Ministry Moshe Bar Siman Tov stated that the return to studies would not happen soon.

A GROUP of junior high school students are demanding the government fulfill its educational duty to them.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A GROUP of junior high school students are demanding the government fulfill its educational duty to them.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A report released by the Gertner Institute on Thursday detailed to the Health Ministry how Israel's education system could be partially opened if a number of restrictions are implemented, including the splitting of classes into smaller groups, restrictions on elderly teachers working in physical classrooms and more. The institute warned, however, that the move would be exceedingly risky and would need to be done exceedingly carefully.
The Gertner Institute has assisted in the formulation of national health policy since the 1990's.
All educational institutions in Israel closed in mid-March as the coronavirus outbreak intensified, with some classes and universities moving to distance learning.
The plan to exit the coronavirus crisis involves splitting the opening of the education system into a number of stages.
The first stage would have special education institutions open and then students from first grade to third grade return to studies, even before daycares and kindergartens.
The institute recommends that classes be split in two or even more groups in order to have smaller groups of students. Special education is less at risk, according to the researchers, since the classes are already smaller.
Students would return for a period of four days to studies in physical classrooms, then return to distance learning for ten days, according to the plan. The researchers stated that this would mean that if students develop symptoms, it will occur when they're at home, lowering the risk of the virus spreading. At most, classes should be on a week to week basis, alternating each week between in-class learning and distance learning.
Students should also be separated in school buses and breaks in order to prevent contact which could increase the spread of the virus. Elderly teachers will not be allowed to return to work in physical classrooms in the first stage.
If, after a number of weeks, the situation remains under control and the system of tests and isolation proves itself, the system will be able to return to a more routine schedule and setup, but even this should be done in stages, according to the researchers.
The institute warned that the plan would only work if the state finds a way to drastically quicken the time it takes to confirm and isolate coronavirus cases to less than a week. Even with the institute's plan, the researchers admitted that infections will likely still occur through the education system, therefore the researchers added that parents who choose to keep their children at home should be allowed to do so and be provided with distance learning options, as keeping children at home greatly reduces the risk of infection.
On Saturday, the Gerter Institute released a report recommending that the education system not be reopened at all at this stage. Even throughout the document released on Thursday, the researchers expressed skepticism about the decision to reopen the education system any time soon."It is difficult to ensure that operating the education system will not cause greater harm than the benefits of operating it due to outbreaks of the virus," wrote the researchers in the document presented to the Health Ministry.
"The price of error that will be caused by having to take severe restraint measures in the event of a "second wave" eruption is far higher than the cost of error involving the loss of school days for a limited period of weeks, in both the pedagogical and the economic aspects," warned the researchers, again stressing that the exit from the lockdown in all sectors would need to be conducted slowly and carefully.
Students will be checked for fever daily with strict recordings of attendance and will need to practice higher levels of personal hygiene. In the case of local outbreak, the education system in the affected area will need to close.
The Gerter Institute concluded that there are many advantages to increasing and improving distance learning, rather than returning to classroom studies. Students would have a lower risk of infection and infecting others and would have a consistent schedule instead of having to switch between classroom and distance learning on a week-to-week basis. A centralized plan for distance learning would also be more organized and easier to roll out instead of a return to classroom studies that would have to be conducted separately in each locality.
Earlier on Thursday, the Director-General of the Health Ministry Moshe Bar Siman Tov stated that the return to studies would not happen soon.
"We are all looking at other countries and at the moment there is no other country that has really announced a return to school, said Bar Siman Tov to Ynet. "Even South Korea, who everyone looks up to, still hasn't returned the [education system] to routine. I think at this stage we need to wait with this at least until the next phase."
Education Minister Rafi Peretz responded to Bar Siman Tov's remarks later in the day, saying that "the Health Ministry does not rule concerning the education system," according to Ynet.
"The Health Ministry has an opinion and it's legitimate, but it does not rule concerning the education system. The Treasury [Ministry] is responsible for the treasury, Health [Ministry] is responsible for health and I [am responsible] for education. They aren't aware of the challenges and the implications of the decision, the bagrut tests, special education and more," said Peretz.
The education minister expressed opposition to expressing unilateral opinions to the press which "cause confusion amid the public and transmit chaos."
Both Peretz and Bar Siman Tov admitted that, in the end of the day, it was the politicians and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who decided what would actually happen.
The government met on Thursday to discuss plans to exit the lockdown which has shut down much of Israeli society amid the coronavirus outbreak.