We Must not Squander the Opportunity for Real Change in Israeli Schools

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How many generations of Israelis will be educated without the tools they need to commit to the values of inclusion, respect for the other, and equality?

Another school year is upon us. Once again, we are grappling with the question of managing a school year against the backdrop of COVID variants and the uncertainty they bring with them. This time, we presumably have acquired some experience in dealing with teaching and studying in a time of a pandemic, and even have gained some understanding of the challenges and opportunities the last two years have presented to us. Yet recent debates in the government and parliament regarding the first of September, make us uneasy: are we again going to witness the same problems we faced last year? Have we learned how to make Israeli education better? Perhaps this is not the time to ask this question. After all, we find ourselves amid uncertainty and threats of lockdown — again. Yet failing to address the hard issues of Israeli education, alongside adequate preparations for another school year, might get in the way of much needed change, for years to come.

Two examples of the fact that we have not used the current crisis to address difficult issues come to mind. The first, the cancelation of the capsule strategy. Learning in capsules not only helps to reduce the spreading of the virus among students and teachers, but it is also a fundamental basis for the promotion of meaningful and effective learning and teaching. Yes, it requires a change in the allocation of resources. But is there a better time to do so than today — now that we have a new government and are on the verge of finally passing a two-year national budget?

The second example is important for the future of the Israeli society and must be addressed. In the upcoming school year, we cannot ignore the societal and political turmoil we have been experiencing since 2019. Moreover, the last few months have brought with them even more chaos and confusion in many areas of life, including climate change and personal and national security. Last May was all about the violence, incitement, and racism we experienced all over the country. The summer was full of the climate catastrophes around the globe, as well as in Israel, with the outbreaks of fires. The current wave of the pandemic brings back the confusion and distrust to the public discourse as to how to overcome it. All these issues need to be addressed in schools.

We must acknowledge that the lack of a clear policy in our education system on how to teach our youth about pluralism, sustainability, and democratic principles is no less of a problem than achievements in math. What we need right now is an action plan to convey the values of shared citizenship and multiculturalism and the link between sustainability and humanistic values. This action plan must include teacher training and professional development to provide schools with the capacity to function as an arena for debate, in-depth learning, and a venue for encouraging proactive democratic citizenship.

Many teachers have risen to the challenge and are attempting to fill the void left by the political echelons of the Education Ministry, together with politicians throughout the years, and a managerial education policy, no less, in the last decades. But these efforts, welcome though they are, are not enough. Change must begin from the top and must be anchored in concrete decisions and in the Ministry of Education’s clear priorities. Without this commitment, we will raise yet another generation of citizens lacking the tools necessary to be able to deal with disagreements and incapable of functioning as citizens committed to the values of inclusion, respect for the other, and equality.

The article was published in the Times of Israel.