This is the seventh essay in a multi-part series of blogs regarding what the Yesh Atid party has accomplished for Israel in its year and eight months in office.
THE CHANGE: For years, Israel’s education system has been neglected. MK Rabbi Shai Piron, former minister of education, made education one of the government’s top priorities and made numerous changes to improve the country’s education system.
THE BACKGROUND: Israel used to be ranked in the top ten internationally in education. The country has plummeted in international rankings to 37th in reading comprehension and 42nd in math and science due to a system that has been neglected and significant parts of the population have been ignored.
MK Rabbi Shai Piron came into office in March 2013 and began to make the changes necessary to improve the education system. This included the well-known reforms to reduce the number of matriculation exams so that teachers will educate and not simply teach our children to pass tests, summer time programing so that students spend their summer vacation with meaningful educational experiences, the establishment of technology based vocational schools for those students who cannot thrive in a standard classroom setting, requiring significant community service to receive a matriculation diploma, and enabling the existing matriculation exams to count as entry exams into university thereby cancelling the year of study and thousands of shekel involved in taking the pre-college psychometric exams.
But, I am not going to focus on these well-known reforms which are contributing to the necessary overhaul in education. Numerous smaller changes that have been made by Yesh Atid have already improved the education and lives of children throughout Israel and have provided parents with significant economic savings.
Special needs children have not been granted equal opportunity in Israel’s education system and this was » » something Yesh Atid set out to change. Rabbi Piron provided full funding for 3 and 4 year old children to attend municipal pre-schools. This will enable special needs children to integrate within mainstream classroom settings from the earliest age which will help them integrate better into society. This assistance includes budgets for an aide, expert guidance for the nursery teachers, and hours of additional support for these children. In addition, we added an hour a day to students with cerebral palsy, serious physical handicaps, and other disabilities, and also expanded the scope of medical assistance provided to students in the regular education system who suffer from a variety of health issues.
Our effort to provide special needs students with equal opportunities and integration extended beyond the classroom. Each year, the Ministry of Education funds the participation of tens of thousands of students to travel to Poland to learn about the Holocaust. In a majority of cases, special needs students were forced to give up this empowering experience due to the high costs of paying double to cover an aide to accompany these students who needed such assistance. During his year and eight months as Education Minister, Rabbi Shai Piron allocated funds for aides to join special needs students on school trips to Poland to enable these children to participate without having to pay any extra.
It was not only students with special needs who had lost out on educational activities in the past but also students from the periphery and from weaker economic backgrounds. One billion NIS was added to the education budget to add 150,000 extra hours of Hebrew language, math, and English for students in schools where this additional assistance is critical to providing them with equal opportunities.
Worrisome statistics have emerged regarding the inability for underprivileged families to purchase even the most basic school supplies. In addition, they cannot afford the costs for extracurricular activities and class trips. Again, while Minister of Education, Shai Piron expanded the special scholarship fund to 100 million NIS to make sure that all students have supplies and can participate in school activities. 130,000 students are receiving this added assistance. Yesh Atid views this as a moral issue but also as an economic investment in the future of our country.
Purchasing school textbooks has become a serious financial burden for all parents in Israel so Shai Piron began the process of purchasing user rights for digital textbooks which cost about 40% less than regular books. This was done with the ultimate goal of using digital books at no cost to parents and a significant saving for the country. There are many benefits to learning through digital books including updates on course material, the ability to connect and add different layers of information, the sharing of information between the students in the class, the simplicity of purchasing the books, the reduced physical weight that the student must carry, and the significant conservation of paper which serves to protect the environment.
Youth organizations have, sadly, taken a back seat in recent years but we at Yesh Atid believe that the recipe for an exemplary society is youth involvement in communal activities. The budget for youth organizations in Israel stood at 3 million NIS until Shai Piron increased it to 23 million. This dramatic increase means budgets for ten additional programs enabling tens of thousands more young people involved in youth groups, helping to transform them into volunteering, socially conscious youth. This will also influence democratic dialogue, encourage tolerance and respect for others, and promote a rejection of violence and racism.
Most of these and many other reforms that we have made in education are now on hold due to the election. With your support we can return with full strength and with MK Rabbi Shai Piron as Education Minister to continue with these and many other education plans to provide a brighter future for our children and our country.
Please make sure to read the previous part to this series: