School System in Turmoil in Wake of Coronavirus

YERUSHALAYIM -
Israeli Minister of Education Rabbi Rafi Peretz. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The first day of a gradual release from national quarantine on Sunday, aimed at easing the economic crisis, while a welcome step, also served to highlight an assortment of dilemmas.

Parts of the economy were allowed to reopen on Sunday, but schools stayed closed. Besides the problem for many parents of how to go back to work when they have small children at home, there was the vexing question of what to do about the interrupted school year.

Education Minister Rabbi Rafi Peretz (Yamina) told Channel 12 on Sunday evening that “there will be no escape from school being extended into July. You can’t have everyone else working and only the teachers on vacation. In August, summer vacation will continue as planned.”

Rabbi Peretz said he wants “kindergartens to be opened in small supervised frameworks of 7-8 kids per preschool. Grades 1-3 will attend classes 4-5 days a week, and grades 4-6 two to three a week – other grades will continue long-distance learning.”

However, the teachers’ union has balked at the plan.

Secretary-General of the Union, Yaffe Ben David, rejected it outright: “We will not add one day of work in July (over summer vacation) at our expense,” and demanded that the Ministry of Finance fund summer schools instead of having teachers work for free. He said he “[did] not agree with the Minister of Education regarding school in July.” Ben David also stated no one was aware of the difficulties facing educators teaching remotely.

Parents were beside themselves with frustration. A committee representing parents said the officials’ handling of the situation showed “blatant and inconsiderate disregard” for those who are unable to work and will face similar problems into the summer.

“[We] require the Israeli government and education minister to acknowledge the dire failure of distance learning and immediately cancel summer vacation in July and also hold classes in the first two weeks of August. There is blatant disregard for parents in the State of Israel,” the committee said in a statement.

“Learning remotely in its current form is a sad joke that has not been tested in depth,” the committee added. “It looks great in presentations, but is not practical in any way or application and actually puts the burden of teaching at home on parents’ shoulders, who also need to work from home. As long as our requirement is not met, we will allow alternatively, as a condition for continued distance learning, to arrange for a computer for every child.”

Rabbi Peretz was conciliatory in response, saying “There is nothing compulsory here. We have built many tools and each principal and teacher will decide how he uses these tools.

“The coronavirus should not widen the gaps in education, so it is incumbent on the principals, teachers and, of course, parental assistance, to make every effort,” he said.