As part of the Israel Democracy Institute’s Eli Hurvitz Conference on Economy and Society, a panel took place with the participation of Minister of Education Yoav Galant and a number of education experts, focusing on preparing the education system for the post-COVID reality. Eli Hurvitz, executive director of the Trump Foundation, served as chair of the panel.
Eli Hurvitz, executive director of the Trump Foundation: “The day after the crisis education in Israel awaits a huge challenge but also a great opportunity; we need to ask teachers and students what they want and what change they hope for. It’s time to cooperate.”
MK Yoav Galant, Minister of Education: “It is true that there have been difficulties during the pandemic, but we have overcome them – the whole education system is working now, from kindergarten to twelfth grade. Not perfectly, but there is great success in taking a big system and putting it on the right track. The digital revolution is here, and we are providing capabilities previously unparalleled in the education system’ when 15,000 computers are distributed in Jerusalem alone and 4,000 in Rishon Lezion, Beer Sheva, and Umm al-Fahm, you see a change. We will propose a major reform within the framework of the 2021 budget, whose main focus will be on providing administrative and pedagogical flexibility to school principals. I want to take resources and responsibilities that are currently in my and the executive director’s hands and transfer them to principals. If that happens, within a few years, we will not recognize the education system; everything will change for the better.”
Minister Galant added: “There were those in the education system who thought, over the years, that it was possible to sit in the Jerusalem headquarters and decide what the school schedule in Dimona would look like. This is not administratively possible, so my logic is that we have 5,200 beacons of light, namely, school principals, and I want each and every one of them to identify with the goals and objectives we set. I want to give freedom of action to the principals, and I believe that within a few years, from the moment we provide this freedom, we will see results on the ground.”
Moshe Bachar, senior deputy of the Ministry of Finance’s Department of Salary and Employment Agreements: “The COVID crisis offered the education system a tremendous opportunity because it forced us to do things that were not previously possible. The first thing is much less frontal classroom hours. In addition, COVID forced us to implement a five-day week, without Fridays. The Israeli education system was the only one teaching six days a week; it created a mismatch between parents’ and children’s vacations as well as harming parents’ productivity as employees and, ultimately, the national product. We learned during this crisis that it is not terrible that children are home with theirs parents for one day. I hope we can leverage this to better synchronize between children’s and parent’s vacations. This is not a trivial discourse that we, the parents, the teachers’ organizations, and the government will have to hold; hopefully, we will have the courage to do it at last. The last thing is the autonomy – the local government and the school principals who know best how to deal with the different differential needs. I very much hope that we can leverage these things.”
Yaffa Ben-David, secretary-general of the Israel Teachers’ Union: “The Teachers’ Union has been saying for years that what is important is the quality of teaching and not the quantity. Studies show that the number of frontal classroom hours does not contribute to achievements. As for the teachers’ vacations – don’t correct one injustice by doing another. Teaching is one of the most exhausting professions, and vacations are designed to give teaching staff the time to gather strength to continue with their work. Therefore, if other workers in the economy have less vacation time, let the state increase their vacations.”
Ben-David added: “The erosion is due to principals’ lack of autonomy. The Ministry of Education tends to impose additional tasks on teaching staff alongside unpaid wages and poor conditions and not to adopt new and more creative teaching methods. Who knows better if not the teaching staff? They have been given a lot of responsibility but no authority. The coronavirus pandemic was a wake-up call for anyone who had not understood the failures of the education system.”
Ran Erez, chair of the Israeli Secondary School Teachers’ Association: “COVID has proved that nothing is possible without teachers. Teachers need to be nurtured because they are a very important component of the roots and foundations of every schoolchild. We invested a lot of work during this period. We changed paradigms, work habits, and thought patterns; today we work differently and the work is hard but successful. It creates a different kind of motivation.”
“The Ministry of Education has an inherent conflict of interest. It cannot manage the education system and also wear all of the other hats: regulator, budgeter, supervisor, and employer. The minister of education does not know what is happening in the classroom in Petach Tikva; it is therefore local government that can manage the education system correctly.”
Dalit Stauber, Israel Democracy Institute, Ono Academic College, and Mandel School for Educational Leadership and former director general of the Ministry of Education: “All over the world there are huge challenges and gaps and it is time to learn from successes and not repeat past mistakes. The crisis we experienced is a global crisis. The operating model we are offering is based on studying successes around the world and in Israel and can help plan the implementation and integration of the required responses. We need to make pedagogical changes and give different solutions and decentralization of powers according to the different cities, and all this with the participation of a variety of experts and field personnel (currently excluded) and flexible planning according to changing needs.”
Stauber added: “If the system does not change its ways, it will lead to severe damage to public trust in the public education system and a loss of relevance and even erode the place of education as a leading value in the country. In a situation of paralysis in the education system, there is severe damage to the weaker populations and a danger to the very fabric of Israeli society. Students, even strong ones, can develop emotional and social difficulties and huge budgets will be required over the years to address the emerging gaps and difficulties.”
Dr. Michal Tabibian Mizrahi, deputy director general and director of strategy and planning at the Ministry of Education: “The emphasis is on the application and how it should be carried out. The education system is a system with a lot of partners and that is always its big challenge. It is a system that, despite its size and complexity, is capable of changing. We saw this during the crisis. In contrast to some predictions, schools are here to stay. Some thought that schools would disappear, but in the crisis we saw that schools have a different role beyond education. Learning is also part of personal development. In addition, the COVID pandemic showed us that the ability to provide flexibility is the ability to provide a better education. Along with managerial and pedagogical flexibility, we need to different between different places and different students and tailor learning to their needs. Teachers also acknowledged a change in their perception of their role. Calling them “teaching staff” does not reflect their very great leadership, their values, and their dedication to the job and their students. And finally, the changes that took place during the crisis must be maintained in order for them to continue to exist and for us not to return to what was.”
The Eli Hurvitz Conference on Economy and Society – formerly the Caesarea Economic Policy Planning Forum – is widely recognized as Israel's most influential economic conference. For 27 years, the conference has served as a crossroads where public discourse and professional knowledge in economics and society meet, with the aim of improving decision-making processes in the administration and improving the quality of Israel's social and economic policy for the benefit of the entire public. The conference this year focuses on: macroeconomic policy in times of economic crisis; the labor market; the Israeli education system; governance in a time of crisis; strengthening the health system's readiness for crisis situations; and the relationship between local and central government. The conference is the apex of research and theoretical and practical research by working and thinking groups comprised of senior officials in the Ministry of Economy, Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Finance, the Prime Minister's Office, academics, IDI experts, civil society representatives, and other partners. Together, the teams led research and developed policy recommendations on issues closely related to the conference sessions, which will be presented during the conference, held online this year from December 14 to December 16.