Education System Should Remain Open Even in Case of Third Wave, OECD Education Director Tells Knesset Committee

israel schools coronavirus
A kindergarten in Kfar Yona, ready for reopening, with sanitizer on the table. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

The Special Committee for the Rights of the Child chaired by MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) held a follow-up meeting on Tuesday to assess the distribution of computers, as well as the condition of internet infrastructures in Israel, which facilitate distance learning during the coronavirus pandemic. The meeting was held with the participation of Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills, and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Committee Chairman MK Jabareen opened the meeting and said, “Nearly nine months have passed since the first lockdown of the coronavirus crisis, and the committee continues to monitor the difficulties involved in distance learning, which stem from a shortage of [digital devices], as well as problems with internet infrastructures. The shortage creates huge gaps. According to the Education Ministry’s estimation, 150,000 [computers] are needed, while the committee heard from the bodies working in the field that 400,000 are needed. The education system has yet to return in orange and red communities, and it is possible that we are heading towards a third lockdown, so it is important that we make certain these children will be able to learn, and thus save the school year for them.”

Schleicher, who took part in the meeting via video conference, said distance learning has become a “lifeline” for education systems around the world, but not all of the social needs have been addressed. Alongside interesting social and technological innovations the crisis has created, inequality has intensified, Schleicher explained. The crisis may not have created inequality, but it has certainly exacerbated it, he said.

In Israel, Schleicher noted, there is a vast discrepancy between the grades of children from families in the highest income bracket and children from families in the lowest income bracket. “The average appears healthy, but the gaps and the lack of equality in learning are very big,” he said. Israel, like the U.S., also ranks low in the ability to adjust its resources to the needs, meaning that disadvantaged communities also get lower quality teachers, Schleicher explained.

As for the pandemic, many schools in Israel, most of them located in disadvantaged communities, say they lack the means needed for distance learning, he said. In China, 90% of the teachers know how to use distance learning technology, but a wide gap is not necessarily the result of a lack of resources. It may also be the result of the inability of schools and teachers to utilize them, according to Schleicher.

Schleicher said that during the first wave of the coronavirus, most countries closed the education system, but now, in the second wave, nearly all European countries have left the education system open. It was not known in the first wave, but today there is evidence that schools, particularly those attended by younger children, are not a source of infection, Schleicher told the committee. Countries understood that keeping children out of the educational framework widens the social gaps, he said.

Asked by Jabareen whether Israel should keep the education system open in the event of a third wave, Schleicher said that since distance learning broadens the gaps, keeping the education system open would be the right thing to do.

Jabareen summed up the meeting, saying the committee calls on the state to adopt Schleicher’s recommendation to invest most of the resources in schools located in disadvantaged communities, as well as his recommendation to formulate a plan for strengthening the education system for the post-pandemic era.

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