Back to school, rejoice regardless

Phew! I can hear all Israeli parents breathe a sigh of relief as we send our kids back to school after what can only be described as a ridiculously long summer break.  Three days is a start, but we need to reduce the summer break by at least three weeks if not more. At last, back to routine, well OK, only for a week or so until the beginning of the Hagim, the “lost” month of September and more holiday time off school. After surviving the emotional, psychological and not to mention financial rigours of the summer we had to negotiate the numerous obstacles and challenges presented by the need to restock and prepare for the coming academic year. How can my child possibly go back to school with the same bag he/she used last year?  It is unthinkable! It just wouldn’t be right. What would the other parents say?  How would bag manufacturers and their distributers ever survive? Why are school books so expensive?  Actually I think that in any other country, they would call it a “cartel” and it would be illegal.  Companies getting together to set outrageously inflated prices for books which have had one or two minor changes from the previous year’s version in order to block the possibility of parents being able to buy second hand books from the older kids, who could go on and buy what they need from the kids one year older than them.  Oh the poor publishers, how would they survive?  One parent commented that perhaps it is time for us to do away with books all together.  Now there is a thought, more likely a debate.  One thing for sure however is that  state sanctioned profiteering by educational book publishers is wrong and should be put to an end. Don’t get me started on note books, folders, pens, pencils and all the other required paraphernalia, which has to be branded just right.  Whether it is the latest fad in cartoons, super heroes, movie stars, pop stars, football teams or whatever, it is all overpriced and wholly unnecessary, but how many “sensible” parents actually have the audacity to say no to their kids? Thankfully, school T shirts (what pathetically passes for a uniform in this country) are not that expensive and can be bought rather easily.  Well at least in theory.  Any parent will tell you that unless you get to the stores by the beginning of July, you are destined to trawl around the various stores with your kids looking for the only colour they will agree to wear this year.  Of course the stores all sold out and if by chance they happen to have the colour, they don’t have the size.  If they have the size, they don’t have the colour.  If you are fortunate enough to miraculously find both size and colour at the same time, chances are that your kids have changed their minds or they are just not in the mood to try them on, or they are on whatsapp with their friends and “why are you bothering me with this now?”… Bless their cotton socks. Then there is the school.  My youngest is about to go to “big school”, no, not year 1, but middle school.  After 6 years in junior school where he finally became one of the big kids and got to sit at the back of the school bus, he now has to start all over again.  Not so bad I suppose, however in this big new world into which he is about to enter he will now be one of 40 rather than one of 30, which was too many to start with.  In a class of 30 he was unable to receive the attention he required, what can he now expect from an overworked underpaid, well intentioned yet undoubtedly frustrated teaching staff , as they struggle to match our (the parents) overinflated expectations.  As I write this, are our expectations so inflated, so ridiculous. All we want is the best possible education for our kids in a safe and secure environment. I suppose it very much depends upon the individual pupil, the school, the teachers and the education authority which at the end of the day is somewhat of a lottery. My kids are indeed fortunate.  Our school will do its best.  For all its shortcomings and lack of resources, the staff are indeed well intentioned and motivated, some are even talented; to provide our kids with the best possible education, despite the government, with its, misguided priorities, flawed policies and wholesale underinvestment in the education system and teachers and the teaching profession in particular. In an imperfect world, I salute our teachers, those who are committed and determined to provide an education to all out children and who are prepared to put up with questionable working conditions, a lack of proper respect for their profession, spoilt kids and pushy parents. They deserve our utmost respect, our gratitude and our support. At the end of the day, the vast majority of our kids will go to school, receive an education, however imperfect, and in the main be cared for in a safe and warm environment.  How many parents around the world can only dream of such a situation? This does not mean that we should not push for continuous improvement in the system and fight for higher standards, better teachers, better schools, greater equality in education for all, cheaper books,  a better education for all our kids.  Hell, we should be out on the streets demanding better from our so called leaders. However, when all is said and done, most if not all of us (hopefully one day) can indeed breathe a sigh of relief as we send our little (and not so little) treasures back to school and rejoice that the new school year is now upon us.  May it be a truly successful year for all!

About the Author
Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Gary Cohen is a writer, filmmaker and creative professional, based in Israel.