First day of class for Israeli students: Room to improve

2,272,000 children begin the 5777/78 school year today.

President Reuven Rivlin and his wife Nechama host the children of President’s Residence staffers who will start first grade (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin and his wife Nechama host the children of President’s Residence staffers who will start first grade
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
As millions of students return to school across the country Friday, the Education Ministry is accelerating efforts to improve education standards for the nation’s youth.
Only 7% of high-school students in the periphery, that is the North and the Negev, study the maximum five units of mathematics. The Education Ministry wants to double that to 14% within five years. For English, the figure is 47%, and the goal to raise that to 65% within five years.
With some 2,272,000 students beginning the 5777/78 school year, the ministry plans to devote additional resources to schools in the periphery to increase the number of students studying four or five matriculation units in mathematics and English.
A second focus will be on fulfilling the ministry’s promise to reduce class sizes, particularly in kindergartens.
Another problem is the shortage of principals and vice principals.
On Friday, some 163,000 children will enter first grade, up from 161,000 a year ago, while around 123,000 teenagers will begin their senior year of high school, an increase of 121,000 over September 2016.
The first day of school is also an opportunity for politicians to visit schools across the country; President Reuven Rivlin will visit the Nofei Haselah School in Ma’aleh Adumim where he will be accompanied by Mayor Benny Kashriel and head teacher Sarit Angel. Rivlin will join the first-graders in their first lesson.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett will attend the opening ceremony at the Harish School in Haifa.
Bennett and Education Ministry director-general Shmuel Abuhav want to start the school year on a hopeful note.
Bennett welcomed children, parents and teachers on Wednesday, saying: “[Teachers are] the backbone of this important system and thanks to your tireless efforts this system is advancing more today.”
Abuhav added his vision for the school year, stressing a curriculum that promotes achievement, values and a higher standard of English and math skills.
“We are committed to every student, we will provide every child the opportunity to realize his or her potential,” he said.
At a press conference on Wednesday Bennett unveiled the ministry’s new English studies program, “Give Me Five,” which will invest NIS 70 million toward improving the curriculum.
The program will work in tandem with the math version (also called “Give Me Five, but in Hebrew), which was introduced two years ago and aims to increase the number of students studying math at five units.
Yaffa Ben-David, secretary-general of the Teachers Union, applauded the ministry’s plans, but said: “Kindergartens are still averaging 35 pupils per class, this is crazy and it’s very hard for the teachers and the pupils to handle this type of learning environment.”
The ministry’s goal is to reduce class sizes to fewer than 30 in kindergartens, and the average elementary school class size to 28.
Ben-David blamed insufficient salaries for the shortage of principals and vice principals throughout the school system.
She explained to The Jerusalem Post: “The number of responsibilities the system throws on the principals is not equal to how much they earn, so we are seeing a number of principals quitting and not enough new applicants for these positions. Responsibilities in addition to running a school include being in charge of infrastructure and building maintenance and even after-school activities, coupled with a salary that doesn’t reflect the work they are doing.
“This issue is very important to us and we want to see in this upcoming school year that their work is reflected in their salary.”