'New Horizon' to reduce class size, boost teacher-student interaction

Education Minister Yuli Tamir vowed to "leave no child behind" on Monday as she unveiled a plan to expand the "New Horizon" reform in elementary and middle schools for the new school year which will focus on smaller classes and greater informal interaction between teachers and students. Sitting alongside the ministry's top officials at a press conference in Tel Aviv, Tamir explained that the main focus of the "New Horizon" elementary and middle school reform plan was one-on-one teacher-student interaction. Instruction will focus more on helping students think creatively, rather than rote memorization. Tamir declared that she was confident the plan's estimated NIS 550 million budget would be protected from any future budget cuts, just as it was this year. The big change this coming year, Tamir said, was the expansion of the "New Horizon" reform plan from a pilot program to a system-wide reform. The plan will now encompass more than 250,000 pupils in 763 schools, 450 of which will join the program next year, ministry director-general Shlomit Amichai said. Tamir said that teachers would now be available to meet one-on-one with students during their regular schedule, a reversal of the ministry's decade-long policy of reducing teaching hours. The dedicated time would be an opportunity to discuss schoolwork as well as the child's mental health and wellbeing. Class size will be reduced to 32 pupils across 600 schools, which, Amichai said, was the most the ministry could do within the current budget. Regular class time will be supplemented with learning in small groups focusing on skills like reading and writing. New teachers' salaries will rise to NIS 5,300 gross a month and an experienced teacher participating in the "New Horizon" plan could make as much as NIS 15,000 a month. Two thousand new teachers will be added next year to help implement the reform, while veteran teachers will undergo retraining. Pedagogically, emphasis would be shifted from rote memorization to creative thinking and in-depth understanding, Anat Zohar, head of the ministry's pedagogy department, explained. The new philosophy will be applied in 10 major subjects, such as Bible, English literature, civics, and geography. Improving research skills would also be addressed, Zohar said. Several ethics programs will also either be initiated or expanded next year. Civics instruction would begin in ninth grade, and a program called "Life Skills" would be instituted throughout the education system.