Millions of Israeli kids head back to school

150,000 first-graders and 2.13 million students in total will walk through school doors for the first day of the academic year.

Back to school girl running 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Back to school girl running 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
For one Tel Aviv mother, seeing off her six-year-old for the first day of first grade on Tuesday will come with feelings of ambivalence.
“I’m very excited. Last night I sat down to wrap the books and I started to cry. It’s very exciting to send the first boy to the first grade,” the mother, who preferred to remain anonymous due to her involvement in a parental dispute against the school, told The Jerusalem Post Monday evening.
“But on the other hand I’m very scared,” she continued, alluding to the dispute.
“Thirty-nine kids in one small classroom is not exactly what you want for your kids – a class with 38 other kids.”
The mother is sending her child to the Bavli Yerushalmi public school in northern Tel Aviv. While the school’s own classes are large, the building is hosting students from another school that is undergoing renovations. The size of that school’s classes, she said, remained 25.
Despite encountering what she describes as “a very problematic situation,” the mother said she nonetheless would be excited to see her eldest child off to school on Tuesday. Her son will be joining about 150,000 other first-graders and 2.13 million students in total as they walk through school doors for the first day of the academic year.
“Over two million pupils will march into kindergartens and schools this week,” said Education Minister Shai Piron at Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “In the coming school year we will be faced with many challenges, which are another stage and another layer in the constant improvement of the Israeli educational system.”
Among the goals Piron cited for the new school year were strengthening public education, advancing organizational goals, promoting special education and easing the burden of payments for parents.
With regard to strengthening public education, the minister stressed the importance of opening ultra-Orthodox public schools, a process that is ongoing and will increase.
Arranging for proper payment collection among parents as well as providing aid scholarships would be particularly important at religious schools, he added.
In terms of advancing organizational goals, Piron said this year was the first the ministry would take responsibility for children not only during the school year, but also during summer vacation, initiating activities like adult-escorted buses to Eilat and providing tent complexes for at-risk youth.
As far as special education goes, children coming under this category will be receiving an extra five hours per week of school time, the minister said. He added that this would be the first year that special ed students participate in the annual high school trips to Poland.
Easing the burden of education-related payments for parents will mean increased use of digital books, as well as a continued expansion of the textbook-lending program from 500 schools to 1,800 schools, he stated, adding that doubling the scholarship fund for students in need to NIS 100 million would be critical.
An increase in free schooling for three- and four-year-olds will also take place, and more National Service volunteers will work at these preschools, he said, Other objectives over the course of the coming school year include an assessment of adult education as well as increased opportunities in vocational-technological education and the expansion of educational activities for peripheral youth, Piron said. Only about 13,500 students – about 4 percent of the student population (compared to 60% in Germany) – attend approximately 70 vocational schools in Israel, according to the Economy and Trade Ministry.
Although 96% of Israeli students fall under the responsibility of the Education Ministry, only about half end up qualifying for matriculation certificates at the end of their studies, the ministry added.
“We must increase the number of students and enable free choice for talented students to be integrated into professional education,” Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett said Monday.
Another potentially problematic issue is that most parents do not see their children’s teacher as a role model. A survey conducted for the Gordon College of Education in Haifa indicated that 66% of parents do not feel their child’s teacher is “an impressive education figure worthy of emulation,” while 46% feel that teacher quality is lower than what they themselves experienced in school.
The survey, conducted by Maagar Mochot, drew answers from 491 random telephone respondents within a representative sample of parents of children in the school system.
on something of a more optimistic note, 52% of the parents said they would rate their children’s teachers as “good or very good,” while only 13% said “bad or very bad,” the survey found.
Nevertheless, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stressed at Sunday’s cabinet meeting that “a very serious change” for the better had taken place in the country’s educational structure.
“We are trying to instill in our children two things – values and excellence,” Netanyahu said. “One must go to these new classrooms, and I intend to do so on Tuesday, to see the joy, first of all of the parents, the children and the teachers.”
The prime minister praised members of the previous government for overseeing better results in international exams, stressing that “we are a people of achievements” and that “the combination of values and achievements” is what Israel’s children need to “ensure our future.”
Echoing these sentiments, Piron stressed how Israel had consistently brought the world a high proportion of Nobel laureates, writers, entrepreneurs and inventors – all stemming from the country’s education system.
“We will excel and believe in the core values of Israeli society because we are here to build an exemplary society that has a place for all of its pupils, a society that motivates its youth to discover solidarity with the whole,” Piron said.
As the summer break wound down and children prepared to go back to school on Tuesday, Piron wrote a special message to all first-graders, wishing them success in learning, in making friends and in their overall future.
“Tomorrow morning you will walk to elementary school for the first time. It is a day of celebration. You may have trouble falling asleep tonight,” Piron wrote.
“But, beloved children,” he continued, “it is important to me that you know that we, too, won’t fall asleep – we, too, are excited. We know what a big treasure we are about to receive under our responsibility, and we will do everything, absolutely everything, so that the coming years will go smoothly for you.”