It is still too early to start weighing the full extent of the damage that COVID-19 has brought with it.
But at this point – after the entire country has been in a lockdown for a month and some 200 people have died – it is pretty safe to say that the sector that suffered the most, even more than the health sector, is the economy.
According to media reports, some 25,000 businesses are expected to be forced to close due to direct damage caused by the coronavirus.
None of us can stay indifferent when we hear the cry for help from independent business owners facing total financial collapse. Many of them blame Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Finance Ministry for the way they have handled the crisis, and for the empty promises they have made.
But the spotlight was turned this week – even if just for a few moments – to another sector that is facing a major crisis as well – the education system.
For the past two months, the education system has been almost completely paralyzed. Every other day we hear different solutions regarding the teaching method. Many parents complain that remote studying doesn’t work. Some families don’t even have enough computers at home for all their children so they can be in class at the same time.
Earlier this week, Israel Teachers Union head Yaffa Ben-David was interviewed on Channel 12, and was asked about the Education Ministry’s plan to shorten the summer break in order to compensate for the days that were lost during the outbreak of the pandemic.
Ben-David threw the ball back to the Finance Ministry and said that if the government wants the teachers to work more, they should be compensated for their work.
In response, the interviewer, Channel 12 anchor Yonit Levi, said that we are in unprecedented times, and while one million Israelis lost their jobs, it is time for the teachers to step up and “contribute some days.”
Later on in the interview, finance reporter Keren Marciano asked Ben-David, “Where is your sense of solidarity? You are the head of the Teachers Union, you should be a role model!”
“[You should say] We are now willing to donate our time to the people of Israel in one if its hardest times [in history],” she added.
Levi and Marciano have a point. This might be the biggest challenge the world has faced in the past decade. We live in an uncertain time and many of us are facing uncertainties, and we should all step up and see how we can help ease the effects of this pandemic.
But these journalists' questions underline the way Israelis perceive the role of the teacher.
While Ben-David insisted that the Finance Ministry had reserves to pay teachers for the extra days they want them to work the summer, the journalists kept repeating the word “donate.”
Because these are the teachers, right?
They get a low salary anyway; they work around the clock and they take care of our children in their most difficult age – so why won’t they work for free?
Would Levi and Marciano ask Finance Ministry officials, who sit in the studios regularly, to work for free?
And this is the problem. We should not belittle those who are in charge of our children’s future. Maybe some of them (and probably most of them) chose this profession because they felt a sense of shlichut to society. But we shouldn’t hold this against them.
Yes, the days that they missed should be completed. But let’s not forget – no one had prepared the teachers for this scenario.
And it is not only the remote-study issue. Our education system level seems to be decreasing year after year. A report that was published last December indicated, according to the PISA exams, Israel’s students are in the 29th place out of 37 OECD countries.
The education crisis we are seeing during the current pandemic is a direct result of this broken system.
It’s been broken for years and It needs to be fixed.
Attacking the teachers and expecting them to work for free is not the answer.