Mutual responsibility

Education Minister Rafi Peretz has designated the coming year as the year of “Mutual Responsibility,” with schoolchildren being taught about the different sectors that make up Israeli society.

Jpost editorial logo  (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Jpost editorial logo
(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Some 2.3 million students return to primary and secondary school today.
It is a day for celebration. On the one hand, the students – children age 6 to 18 – will continue with their education, growing in directions still to be determined. On the other hand, for the parents among us, it is the end of a long summer vacation and long days figuring out what to do with the kids and who will watch over them while we go to work.
Education Minister Rafi Peretz has designated the coming year as the year of “Mutual Responsibility,” with schoolchildren being taught about the different sectors and demographics that make up Israeli society. They will also be taught about the sense of responsibility all Israelis are meant to feel toward one another, and how to unite as one people.
This is an interesting idea coming from a minister who recently caused a storm when he seemed to advocate for gay conversion therapy. Just last week, Channel 13 aired footage of a sermon by a rabbi at Peretz’s former yeshiva who warned his students that they need to stay away from secular Israelis.
Mutual responsibility is an interesting idea to promote in schools, considering that in the political system no one seems to think that they have a responsibility toward one other. Instead, all the public ever sees or hears are politicians bickering with one another, calling each other names, or slinging mud at their rivals.
The parties running in the September 17 election are quick to tell the public what they will not do – establish a Palestinian state, negotiate with Hamas, allow haredim control of the state budget – but they rarely reveal what they plan to do. They run on campaigns of despair, not of hope.
This has got to change. What children read in newspapers or hear on the street trickles down into their education. There is already too much violence on the street, too many car accidents, too much corruption. Our children need to see a different and more positive Israel outside the walls of their schools, so they can have what to aspire to. We have to do better.
Israeli schools also have to consider reinventing themselves. Many schools are still teaching children the same math and history – from textbooks – that their parents and grandparents learned from decades ago. At a time when kids are tech savvy and capable of using technology in ways their parents never could have imagined, does it still make sense for them to hear lectures from teachers repeating material that they can read at home? Do they still need to learn algebra, calculus and geometry the way previous generations did?
The answer might be yes. But if it is, then Israel has to do a better job. Israel lags behind the OECD average on the PISA (the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Program for International Student Assessment) tests that rank developed countries.
According to the most recent report, the majority of students who perform poorly in PISA come from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds. This illustrates a well-known problem in Israel: the gap between those who have and those who don’t is widening.
The upcoming election is an opportunity to reset the priorities of the country. Israel needs to ensure that it can compete in a global market, and our children’s schools need to remain the engine behind what has become known as Start-Up Nation. For Israel to retain that title, the country has to invest in better teachers, better infrastructure, and curricula that is applicable and suitable for 2019 and beyond.
Mutual responsibility is not just about learning to be tolerant of those people who might look, sound or act differently than you. It is about understanding that something needs to be done to make sure that the country continues to grow, and its people advance.
The government has been paralyzed for almost nine months. The new government that comes into office after September 17 will have its work set out for it. Ensuring our children get the education they need and deserve should be at the top of the new ministers’ list of priorities. They have a responsibility.