Yuli Tamir: Education system in dire need of change

The education system has never been in such dire need of change. Yet, change cannot take place without an appropriate budget. This was one of the main messages delivered by incoming Education Minister Yuli Tamir at the ceremony that took place Sunday in Jerusalem to mark her entrance to office. "I have no magic wand," she said, referring to the many hopes for change she must now turn to address. Speaking about her goals, Tamir said she would like to see the Education Ministry as a bridge between the different parts of a divided Israeli society. She also said the ministry must give a message of openness to all children, whether they were Arabs, Jews, or the children of foreign workers. "While I am an ardent Zionist, more than teaching Zionism, it's important for me to teach Civics," she said. "There are citizens in this country who have a hard time with Zionism and I want to build a common civic base shared by all, including my haredi friends, my Arab friends, and my yuppie friends in north Tel Aviv." Flanked by outgoing education minister Meir Sheetrit and by the heads of the country's two teachers' unions, Tamir communicated a clear hope for a change in the relations between the teachers and the ministry and for a future collaboration between them. Tamir's immediate challenge, which she also acknowledged in her speech, is for the new school year to commence in September in a timely manner; in order for this to happen, an impending budget cut currently threatening the dismissal of at least 600 teachers must be overturned. In addition, she spoke of the need to create a new educational vision for the 21st century, and to underscore the professional nature of being in education and the Education Ministry. "I hope we succeed for the sake of Israeli children and of Israeli society as a whole," she said. The heads of the teachers unions both expressed hope for the beginning of a better period in ministry-union relations. "This is the end of a very dark period," said Teachers Union chair Yossi Wasserman and Ran Erez, the chair of the Secondary School Teachers Association, concurred. "Today teachers are looking forward with hope and joy because they know you have an agenda," he told Tamir. Erez warned the new minister would have to "make a strong effort to prevent the budget cut before it is too late." He also called upon the government to make a public statement by ending the series of budget cuts the Education Ministry has suffered for the past four years. In addition, Erez expressed his hope of implementing an educational reform that would be agreed upon by both the ministry and the teachers.