What the strike can teach us

It isn't about fundamental reforms - it's just about money.

Gaza kids (photo credit: )
Gaza kids
(photo credit: )
The lengthy teachers' walkout continues, the school year is in danger, the two sides remain far apart and the future of the educational system looks iffy. Umm... isn't the education strike over? Yes - but only the one involving the secondary school teachers, who finally signed a deal with the government Thursday, after a 65-day labor action. We're talking about the other education strike - the one by senior university lecturers, which is in its seventh week, threatening to shortly break the newly minted strike record of their academic peers. If you forgot about that one while celebrating the reopening of the secondary schools, it's understandable; the poor university lecturers haven't gotten all that much attention the past couple of months, other than from their students missing vital school hours. "I think we were a little off in our timing," says Danny, one of the striking lecturers. "The public probably can't focus on more than one of these types of events at a given time. It became pretty evident that nothing was going to happen with us until the secondary school teachers' strike ended." There are other reasons why the public and media have had less interest in this labor action. The number of strikers (a few thousand) is far less, as is the number of students directly affected. What's more, the latter are (young) adults, not teenagers - so there are no troubling reports that they are hanging around in the malls, or staying out late at night, which, as college students, they're supposed to do anyway. What's more, this strike isn't about fundamental school reforms - it's just about money, specifically what the lecturers claim has been an erosion of 35 percent (a figure the government says is closer to 3%) in their wages over the past decade. So if the lecturers were hoping for much public or media sympathy of the type the secondary school teachers received, that's probably not forthcoming. What they do need to achieve their goals is at least a general intellectual understanding of the importance of their work - and that's a tougher sell. "People have to understand that Israel's only real natural resource is its brain power," argues Danny. "The public doesn't necessarily make the connection between the quality of higher education and the way it creates jobs in fields like hi-tech and bio-tech. There is a real 'brain drain' going on in this country. We're losing good people who go to academia abroad, and that does eventually impact on the economy." Fair enough, but even that hardly seems as urgent as the need to stop cramming upward of 35 secondary school students per class, or giving them the longer learning hours needed to master basic language and math skills. "It's all connected," insists Danny. "We need to start viewing the educational system as one continuum. I'm glad the secondary school strike is over, and it looks like there were some achievements, but only if they are viewed as a first step in upgrading the whole educational system." That's the link between the teachers' strikes - the one over, the other continuing. With the kids back in school, parents can relax for a while and the media can turn its attention away from classrooms to other things that seem more urgent (like Kassams in Sderot) - until the next time there is violence in a school or a report shows Israel has slipped further down the list of nations when comparing test scores on an international level. As for the lecturers' strike, if it is not resolved soon, the fall university semester will be lost, which could lead to an entire academic year lost. And because this dispute is strictly about wages, the National Labor Court is unlikely to intervene in the way it did to help bring the secondary school strike to an end. "The two sides are so far apart, it will probably take some political intervention to bring about a resolution, maybe even on the part of the prime minister," Danny says. Well, it's too late for Ehud Olmert to invite the heads of the lecturers' union to light Hanukka candles and the next holiday isn't until Purim. At any rate, it will take more than just the conclusion of a couple of strikes for the challenges facing our educational system on all levels to finally be moved to where they should be among our list of national priorities - the head of the class. [email protected]