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Israel’s children are pawns in dirty politics

The sorry state of Israeli schools belies Naftali Bennett's sweeping pronouncements on his education overhaul

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and President Reuven Rivlin this week greeted 30 education ministers invited to Jerusalem for the OECD Global Education Industry Summit. In a hauteur manner posing a big smile for the cameras, Bennett proclaimed, “We can transform the world….In this room we have the world’s real security council: the education security council.” Laughter, applause, and a lot of backslapping ensued.

What a sham.

  • Israel does not have adequate numbers of full time teachers in schools
  • They are highly committed (80 percent return year after year) but not paid a livable wage
  • It is reported more than a quarter of teachers are part-timers and temps
  • Many teachers are inured to terrible pay and resigned to holding second and third positions to make ends meet
  • Female teachers earn ten percent less than males in the system
  • Funding cuts (and the government’s refusal to place Arab teachers in Jewish schools crying for staff) for Arab schools are deeper and more widespread leaving a pool of 11,000 unemployed Arab teachers in northern Israel
  • Teachers earn an unlivable wage on average of nis6,800 to 10,438 per month; haredi teachers earn half that amount.
  • Almost ten years ago, an OECD report found Israel’s teachers among the lowest paid in the world. Not much has changed. An OECD report, Education at a Glance 2016, confirms Israel spends significantly less on education, less per student, and less across all education levels in comparison to the average spending among OECD countries. Here’s how the premium site financial Globes, that reports on the economic health of Israel, presented other findings on September 22, 2016:

    • Israeli teachers worst paid in OECD
    • Israeli elementary school teachers earn less than all others
    • Israel ranks at the bottom of teacher pay scales with one report putting Israeli teacher salaries below Turkey, Chile and Mexico
    • Other nations spend more than $9,000 on salaries per pupil per year, while Israel spends $1,912 per pupil per year.

    A strong viable teacher corps is essential to national economic growth, productivity and national security. Israel’s vaunted hi-tech sector boasts salaries topping nis24,000 per month, because techies are essential to exports and national security. Teachers are not considered on par.

    But the hi-tech sector is shrinking and dire. It suffers from a shortage of computer engineers and scientists. Israel’s competitive edge is in a state of erosion. University professors in science, engineering, technology, and math report they cannot fill enough slots with qualified students coming up through the education system.

    Minister Bennett recognizes the problem. In a recent announcement, improving science, math, and English studies are among his top four targets for curriculum attention. Nevertheless, in November 2015 the Knesset passed a budget allocating an additional NIS6.7 billion to the Education Ministry, but by August 2016 the two years budget passed for 2017-2018 allocates far less in both years and little for bettering teacher salaries. By 2017 thousands of teachers are anticipating being fired, perhaps as many as 7,000. They are already looking for jobs outside teaching.

    If only education had an advocate like MK Litzman is for healthcare: Litzman, according to an August 16, 2016 Jerusalem Post article by Judy Siegel-Itkovich, promises ‘war’ to expand health basket.

     I know another young man who left teaching (three jobs) in Israel, out of frustration and unable to support his family on the pay. Another, an English teacher blogs how welcoming the staff and children in two schools were to her (both part-time employment). “I felt like a rock star.” However, “month after month there was no sign of pay—instead, the schools and the Ministry of Education threw more and more random paperwork at me while I patronizingly told to be patient…. I have only experienced a similar level of chaos in third world countries limping along on non-existent economies.”

    Bennett and Rivlin ginned up the Israel hasbara of doing good deeds, being a lighthouse in a sea of Middle East turbulence, about new and innovative teaching curricula and methods, safe learning environments, and skills training. But they keep forgetting how little the teachers are paid who are doing all the heavy lifting, while the politicians are gamming and posturing before foreign dignitaries and cameras. It’s time for political blather and prattle to end and appreciate the Shel Silverstein sigh for Israel’s teachers: “Talked my head off. Worked my tail off. Cried my eyes out. Walked my feet off. Sang my heart out. So you see, there’s really not much left of me.”

    About the Author
    Dr. Goldmeier is a former Research and Teaching Fellow at Harvard University and teaches international university students in Tel Aviv. His new book is HEALTH INSIGHTS @ http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01E3S2MU0 He served in the administrations of three US governors and Surgeon General, is a commerce and industry consultant, writer, and public speaker on social, health, and public policy issues.
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