The government needs to solve this teachers' strike - editorial

While teachers undoubtedly deserve better wages and working conditions, parents don’t deserve to have to wait until the last minute every year to know if their children will be going to school.

A school classroom is seen empty in Jerusalem's Beit Hakerem. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A school classroom is seen empty in Jerusalem's Beit Hakerem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

With one day left before the school year starts, parents are once again left in limbo as the teachers' strike continues to loom on the horizon, and the 2022 school year looks like it might not begin on time.

After years of disruptions because of COVID-19 and past strikes, this is a real and immediate concern. While teachers undoubtedly deserve better wages and working conditions, parents don’t deserve to have to wait until the last minute every year to know if their children will be going to school.

Israel deserves less chaos and more clarity in regard to education and the ripple effect it has across the country in how it impacts the lives of so many others.

The chaos of a strike was felt at the end of the school year just a few months ago, and it appears to be no coincidence that these strikes seem timed to start during a time of transition from school to summer break or vice versa. The teachers and their union have a lot of power in these scenarios, but the difficulties that parents are placed in during these times also put a lot of pressure on the government to solve the situation.

This is because parents want the best for their children, and they want the teachers to be content with their work. We entrust the schools with a huge responsibility, taking care of our children. But parents are also frustrated, and they have been in and out of work over the summer taking care of children who are at home or on break. Many want the chaos and limbo to end.

 EDUCATION MINISTER Yifat Shasha-Biton visits a classroom last year. Will this school year open on time?  (credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90) EDUCATION MINISTER Yifat Shasha-Biton visits a classroom last year. Will this school year open on time? (credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)

The government should solve this strike. The Finance Ministry should be flexible. There are signals that the Teachers Union and the government are making progress to work on a labor agreement. But the government itself has a cloud looming over it in terms of elections. This means that any agreement could be a short-term one or lead to more chaos in the fall and winter. The prime minister and his team should get involved and make sure the strike is averted.

There was also plenty of time to deal with this months ago.

The Teachers Union has been warning for months that it would strike, and it started negotiations with the government to no avail. Sadly, we are down to the wire, and too much time was lost.

What are some of the issues involved?

Conflicting reports in recent weeks have shown that while Israeli teachers earn well compared with their peers abroad, incoming new teachers earn very low salaries. A report noted that a beginning teacher in Israel earns roughly 40% of the salary earned by the highest-paid teachers, lower than the OECD average.

Israeli students also attend more days of school than children overseas, meaning that overall, Israeli teachers do more work for salaries that may be comparable but in this sense are worse. The goal in Israel has been to try to increase the very low pay of younger incoming teachers.

There are other issues as well, such as crowded classrooms, too many students per class or lack of class space. Anyone who has set foot in some of the average schools in Israel knows this is a problem: Israeli schools need more investment, more space and more infrastructure. The problem may be in part due to planning; as a country with a large birth rate, Israel needs to always be planning more schools and more space for the incoming students.

These are major problems that need comprehensive solutions for the long term. Unfortunately, we have a government that is likely wrapping up its work soon. It’s possible we will have more political chaos after the election.

Previous governments led by Benjamin Netanyahu brought Israel four elections in a row and didn’t pass a budget for years. They preferred the chaos of elections and short-term agreements as a method of governing.

Our teachers deserve better, and so do the parents. The students also need to stop paying the price. The government should solve the strike as soon as possible and work on long-term solutions.