Education was always a top priority growing up in a Diaspora Jewish community. Education was not only a core value in Jewish homes, but it was tangibly supported and generously financially assisted from my Greater Boston Jewish community. In retrospect, my childhood was very privileged, whilst empowering. The opportunities to do great things were always abundant. This marked itself with oftenly fully-funded student trips, heavily subsidized Jewish young leadership programs, a chock-full of scholarships and more.
Israeli education, on the other hand, is struggling. The Israeli education system is in a crisis: teachers are leaving at alarming rates, educators can barely make ends meet on below-minimum-wage salaries, classroom sizes are huge (above OECD levels) and student misbehavior is at an all time high. The teachers and administrators are overworked and the students are frustrated. The work is enormous and requires significant systemic changes.
While there is laudable philanthropy to Israel, whether it is planting trees with the JNF, the FIDF supporting lone soldiers or feeding Israel’s hungry, we have seemed to overlook a core Jewish value: education.
What is the future of the state of Israel without a quality-educated population? What kind of message are we giving to our children in Israel and the Jewish World, where we are the determiners of our own fate, when we give a subpar education? How many radio interviews do I need to listen to about the failing education system? How many teachers’ strikes will it take for the Jewish world to wake up to this systemic crisis?
Education, such an exalted value of the Jewish people it is almost synonymous, has seemed to become almost neglected in this Jewish country we are all so proud of and love so much. We must see more money invested in it – and quickly.
Making classroom sizes smaller (from preschool age)
Israeli classroom sizes are among the highest in the OECD. Even starting from preschool, the ratio can be 35 children to two staff (a preschool teacher and an assistant) to high school with a whopping 42 students to one teacher. These numbers make it merely impossible for students to learn and teachers to teach. Many older students attend private lessons in order to close the gaps; however, this is expensive, timely and causes students to be even less motivated during classroom time. Not to mention, this is inequitable, creating even bigger gaps between higher and lower socioeconomic populations.
Paying educators what they deserve
There is no doubt that educators are in this profession because they believe in what they’re doing. However, at the end of the day, people need to make ends meet. Furthermore, teachers spend a huge amount of time outside the classroom: preparing lessons, talking to parents, checking assignments and grading tests. Teachers should be compensated for this time, too. Often, teachers teach private lessons and since the money is there, teachers spend more time preparing for those lessons than the ones at school.
Recruiting and creating better quality staff and curriculum
There are many people who could be amazing educators in Israel; however, many people have not pursued a career in education because of the difficult classroom environments and the low salaries. This can be changed by paying educators what they deserve by fully covering the post-graduate certification programs and giving stipends. For those teachers who are already in the profession, this could go towards supporting new teachers and encouraging professional development courses that are on par with the rest of the world. Lastly, much of the way material is taught and the material itself is outdated, unrelatable and therefore, ineffective. A systemic change in how we are teaching needs to take place, as well.
The Israeli education system needs help and the current situation is unsustainable. As a mother of three young boys and a teacher in the system, I am compelled to call on Jewish philanthropy organizations – that I certainly am indebted to and have helped shape who I am so much – to create a partnership with the Ministry of Education to address these burning issues for the sake of our children’s well-being and the future of Israel.
The witer is a Ministry of Education-licensed English teacher. She made aliyah from Sharon, Massachusetts, and lives in Ramat Gan with her husband and three young boys.