These are trying times, we all know that. Staying at home more than normal, being out of work, anxiety about changes in our health, missing our friends and loved ones all weigh heavily on us. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of frustration, disappointment, even depression over the state of our country and the world. Magnificent possibility stands right in front of our eyes, ready for the taking.
Now, more than ever, we are in desperate need of a strong corps of nurses, doctors, orderlies, medical support staff, social workers, and teachers, to help guide our country through this crisis. Israel stands on the cusp of just enough time to make the needed changes. There is no time to dilly-dally. Lives are on the line, as well as the sanity of thousands of parents.
The COVID-19 shutdown has illuminated the consequences of the chronic, long-term, under-funding of both healthcare and education here in Israel.
Social workers have been striking across the country for the past several weeks, just today coming to terms with the government. Nurses are striking across the country. It is an affront to the social fabric of our society how poorly the government has been treating these essential workers. Negotiations are underway between the nurses union and the government with an initial agreement already on the table to boost staffing and funding.
According to reports, Yoav Gallant, the Minister of Education, recognizes the massive manpower and financial needs to open our school year — billions of shekels need to be poured into our educational system to allow for smaller classrooms and more teaching staff. We have to activate, in a manner of speaking, a massive reserve of adults who are capable of teaching, even if they lack the official credentials. I know that behind the scenes teachers and administrators are hard at work preparing for September 1st.
Both sectors need dramatic increases in their budgets in addition to an infusion of energetic and idealistic new workers — new teachers and new healthcare professionals at all levels.
We have a magnificent social framework that values service. Mandatory military service, with a strong emphasis on the concept of service, is a core ideal of Israeli society. Additionally, more and more youngsters are choosing to add an additional year of pre-army service, in addition to the growing ranks of those doing non-army service for any number of reasons. The historical sense of national identity, pride, and service is still alive here today, as outlined in a recent TOI blog post. The experience of national service — military or voluntary — is formative for Israeli youth. And for many, the opportunity to gain valuable professional experience or even a college degree motivates additional service.
I am proposing a major shift in the format of our national service program. We need to immediately create an opportunity for young adults to enroll in a track of national service that provides them immediate, hands-on learning, mentoring, and a formal academic program culminating in earning a BA in teaching or nursing. Participants would make a greater commitment of service — perhaps up to five years of service in exchange for the experience and degree they will gain. This is not unprecedented — there are already programs for young adults in the army to extend their enlistment and obtain a college degree along the way.
There are a number of additional benefits to this approach. Teaching and nursing are not for everyone, and many want to try these professions. Sometimes this only becomes apparent after investing in the training, at which point there might be a feeling of being trapped in a profession due to the investment of time and money. This program would allow teachers-in-training and nurses-in-training to serve their country while benefiting from an opportunity to explore a profession and obtain significant hands-on experience. This model would dramatically reduce the individual investment, therefore allowing those not suited to teaching or nursing more freedom to choose another profession.
Additionally, we need to elevate the status of teaching and nursing. Making this training program a competitive national service assignment would help elevate the status of teachers and nurses (in addition to finding additional national funding to boost salaries, but that’s another post for another time). It would also afford more senior teachers and nurses the opportunity to mentor younger professionals who bring a refreshing energy to the field.
I have confidence that some of these young adults will indeed stay in education and in healthcare and perhaps even choose to continue and become doctors, surgeons, principals, educational policy makers. They will also take the skills and experiences with them throughout their lives, expanding the scope of influence from this experience well beyond the few years of service. This can be possible if we see the possibility in this moment and pivot just slightly.
As a parent, the thought of sending my child to a school staffed with veteran teachers mentoring an influx of energetic and enthusiastic younger teachers-in-training seems like an excellent way to navigate the current situation that brings with it potential long-term benefits as well for the educational system.
We have before us a magnificent resource of motivated and engaged post-high school youth. We face a mounting social crisis as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches our health care and educational systems. To me, there is an obvious opportunity to help on both sides.