Education Committee meets under rocket fire in Sderot

Efforts underway to ensure all pupils have computers at home.

The Knesset Education Committee held an emergency meeting in Sderot on Tuesday morning, as committee members along with representatives from the Education Ministry and local authorities shuffled into a fortified conference room inside an elementary school to discuss the educational ramifications of the ongoing situation in the south. As the meeting began, Education Committee head MK Rabbi Michael Melchior (Meimad) told the committee that "there were responses of amazement to our decision to hold this meeting [in Sderot], but I believe it is our obligation to do so." Newly elected Sderot Mayor David Buskila also addressed the committee, telling them: "Just imagine an eight-year-old child who has grown up in Sderot. That child's entire life has known nothing but rockets and bomb shelters. Or a two or three-year-old in Sderot, whose first words are 'the color red', and not because of the flowers around him." During the meeting, it was revealed that some 180,000 pupils in the south of the country were not in school on Tuesday due to the ongoing situation in the south. That number included all pupils within a 40 kilometer range of the Gaza Strip, which includes Beersheba, Ashdod, Kiryat Gat, Gan Yavne and Rahat, among others. Regardless, the Education Committee discussed various ways in which they would begin offering support to pupils whose classes had been cancelled in all of the various emergency zones, if need be. Amira Haim, director of the Education Ministry's southern region, unveiled a three-pronged approach to continuing the pupils' education in all of the areas currently under rocket fire. "Our main focus right now is making sure that all of the pupils have computers at home," Haim said, explaining that with use of the Internet and other computer programs, children could work through various home school programs set up by the Education Ministry. "Pupils within the first seven kilometer range all have computers at home - that number is up to 100 percent," she continued. "But in the farther ranges, in Ashkelon and Ashdod, that number is lower. In Kiryat Gat, only 50% of the students have computers at home, and we're currently working on helping those pupils get computers." Haim also emphasized that other initiatives the Education Ministry was instituting included a telephone hot line system and psychological help for those who may have been traumatized by the ongoing violence. The latter, however, Haim told the committee, was facing some difficulty in getting off the ground. "We have the money for psychologists and social workers," she said. "But many of them are refusing to come to the south - they're fearful for their safety." From the teachers' point of view, Israel Teachers Union (Histadrut Hamorim) representative David Mansur told committee members that he was worried about southern schools' staff, as they found themselves under double pressure. "They have to worry about their homes and families like everyone else, and then they come to school and worry about their classrooms. It's an enormous amount of responsibility," Mansur said. As the meeting was drawing to a close, Mansur told The Jerusalem Post that while the stress factor was his main concern, he was less worried about the teachers in Sderot. "They've gotten used to this pressure," he said. "But what about the teachers in Ashdod and other places where they've never dealt with these situations? The level of stress they're under is enormous." Mansur did say that his union was beginning to grant teachers in the south 3-day vacations to go up north and "clear their mind a bit". "It's important that they have a chance to relax," he said. "If not, who knows how much more they could take." Still, after the meeting had ended, members rushed back into the conference room as the "Color Red" siren blared outside and two loud explosions were heard nearby only seconds later.