Analysis: Populism not enough for Education Minister

Dovrat represented the first serious program in decades.

student school 88 (photo credit: )
student school 88
(photo credit: )
Education Minister Yuli Tamir may do away with her predecessor's controversial Dovrat Reform plan. Limor Livnat's abrasive personality might have done a lot to discredit the plan, especially the way she tried to use it to bludgeon the teachers' unions into submission, but that won't change the fact that Dovrat represented the first time in decades that a serious program was presented to deal with the woeful state of Israeli education. A collective sigh of relief was sounded in the ministry's corridors at Livnat's departure. Her five years in the post had left the organization in a state of shock. That doesn't mean that everything she did on the job was necessarily wrong. The Dovrat plan, even though it was ham-handedly implemented, was a step in the right direction. Ditching it, a populist step, wouldn't do Israeli education any good. One doesn't have to be a professor of education like Tamir to realize what's wrong with the school system: a demoralized teaching force, children who spend barely five hours a day in classes and have no meaningful contact with educators, too little accountability and supervision of quality of lessons and a dire shortage of serious young people who see teaching as their vocation. Even the teachers' unions agree with this. Neither does Tamir dispute the main premise behind Dovrat. A significant proportion of the country's 130,000 teachers will have to go into early retirement to allow the system to attract fresh forces, young motivated educators who will receive better salaries in return for longer hours and a higher degree of professionalism. Tamir hopes this can be achieved through peaceful negotiations with the unions and that the Finance Ministry will cancel cuts to the education budget and add the necessary funds to finance reform. But the facts are that if the government has to fund Amir Peretz's state pension and minimum wage schemes, pay for Tamir's revolutionary project of allowing every university and college student to study for free and pay the country back some day, and come up with the billions needed to move 70,000 settlers and dozens of military bases out of the West Bank, there will be precious little left for new teachers. A year down the line, Tamir will have to choose between an all-out fight with the unions and shouldering the blame for a drawn-out strike, or settling for inertia and status quo like so many ministers before her. Perhaps she will achieve a few improvements on the margins but will leave the real problem to her successor. Say what you will about Livnat, at least she grasped the nettle with both hands.