Overcrowding in the Israeli school system isn’t only a matter of large class size — up to 40 students — but it’s also a problem of rooms and buildings that aren’t big enough.
While the Education Ministry’s official standard for classroom size is 49 square meters, in practice it will allow up to 40 pupils in a room that size, which comes to a floor space of 1.22 square meters, or about 3.3 square feet, per child.
Currently, the average space per child is still 1.32 square meters, according to TheMarker.
By comparison, the Israel Prisons Authority rules entitle each inmate to 3 to 3.5 square meters of cell space. For new facilities, the minimum is 4.5 square meters, which is still half the average cell size in the West.
Israel compares unfavorably to European countries. The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), says the average Israeli elementary school classroom has 28.4 pupils, versus 21.4 average for member countries. That amounts to floor space of 1.86 square meters for schools before 2008.
The Education Ministry’s estimate for average elementary school class size is higher than the OECD’s, or about 35.
“When I go into my classroom I feel like I’m in a Chinese factory that uses child labor. I have no control over what happens in the classroom and I know at the end of the day I haven’t done my best for the children,” one Israeli teacher told TheMarker.
“Last year I asked to teach without a desk so I would have more room, but it really didn’t help,” she added.
The Education Ministry is still catching up with the problem. Its first-ever survey on classroom crowding will not be ready until the end of the year.
Not surprisingly, money, or the lack of it, is the cause.
Avi Kominski, chairman of the association representing local authority education officials, says the Education Ministry supplies a bare-bones budget. Local authorities are supposed to make up the difference, adding as much as 40% to what the ministry provides.
“However, a lot of schools are built to the minimum standard,” he says. “That’s a pity because when you build a school, it’s for generations.”