Tamir unveils plan to reduce class size

Outraged MKs force psychometric test to be given on time.

Tamir 224.88 (photo credit: Ehud Zion Waldoks)
Tamir 224.88
(photo credit: Ehud Zion Waldoks)
Education Minister Yuli Tamir unveiled on Wednesday the government's plan to reduce class sizes, a reform that aims to bring down the number of students per class from over 40 to 32. "This plan will be implemented according to socioeconomic need. At these schools, there will be a quick reduction in class size, which will enable quality personal attention to all students, prevent gaps, raise the students' achievements and thus give them a new opportunity," Tamir announced at the Herzliya Conference. The multi-year, NIS 2.3 billion plan is set to be approved this Sunday at the weekly cabinet meeting. Reductions will begin by September, with NIS 200 million set aside to implement the plan each year. NIS 50m. will be set aside in 2008 to lay the groundwork. The government committed to reducing class size as part of the agreement that ended the Secondary School Teachers Organization (SSTO) strike. Schools on the periphery and those that cater to students from lower socioeconomic brackets would be the first recipients of the government's largesse. The reform plan also calls for children to be split up into small groups in first and second grade to learn basic subjects such as reading, writing and arithmetic. The Education Ministry has also pledged to add at least 400,000 non-frontal teaching hours to encourage one-on-one and small-group learning. SSTO head Ran Erez told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that the reform plan had been formulated in consultation with him as well as others. "We fought for two months to get class size reduced, and we achieved it," he said. Erez said a committee composed of himself, Prof. Friedman, Education Ministry Director-General Shlomit Amihai and Treasury representative Yoni Regev had worked hard to figure out how to actualize the goal. Erez criticized Tamir for what he said was a premature release of the plan to the press. "The minister ran to the press before the committee submitted its report... Also, what has yet to be decided is how long the plan should take to be fully implemented. The committee has spoken of five to six years. However, Tamir has reportedly spoken of 10 years... We will probably end up with a compromise of seven or eight years," he told the Post. Meanwhile, the psychometric exam will take place as originally scheduled on February 11. The National Testing Center, which administers the test, had originally planned to postpone the exam by two weeks - until February 24-25 - since the universities could not allocate sufficient classroom space in the wake of the senior lecturers strike, which ended Friday. However, Knesset Education Committee chair MK Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad) was incensed at the announcement of the delay, which he said would hurt "10,000 people who invested all of their energy and money [studying for the test]." Melchior called an emergency meeting of his committee, and in the face of severe criticism from the MKs, the testing center agreed to hold the test on time. At the meeting, the local authorities and the universities pledged to provide sufficient space and testers to administer the test. Melchior said he had spent Tuesday trying to line up alternative rooms for the test and "had found them without any trouble." Michal Netanyahu told the committee, "I just finished army service, and I have a ticket to fly abroad at the end of February. I spent all my time and money preparing for the psychometric test. If it doesn't take place on time, I will both lose a lot of money and have to push off my studies by a year. For three-and-a-half months, I didn't leave the house and just studied for the test."