The following is taken from Yisrael Beytenu’s official platform, written ahead of the 2009 elections.
The education of today’s children shapes the state of tomorrow. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Israel spends similar per capita amounts on education as other Western countries. What is surprising is the steady decline in standards that the Israeli educational system has seen in recent years, such that Israel ranks among the lowest of Western countries in its educational achievements. This situation is unacceptable, especially for a nation that prides itself on its intellectual attainments
How can the disparity between the amount if investment and the poor results be explained? Unfortunately, most of the money allocated for education is spent on bureaucracy and not on the schools. The Ministry of Education is overrun with administrative and pedagogical offices that absorb much of the funding. There is an entire network of administrators who have very high salaries, using money that should be for the schools.
The problem is one of quality and not quantity. As Prof. Aaron Ciechanover, Nobel Prize laureate for Chemistry (2004), has said, “Education is not only a matter of money; it must become a national value, for it is an essential component of the national vitality of the State. . . If we do not re-establish education as the top of our priorities, and not only in the budgetary sense, there will be no knowledge in Israel.”
There are a number of reasons for the deterioration of Israel’s educational system: low requirements for prospective teachers; an inadequate number of refresher courses for teachers, which limits their ability to keep current with new educational approaches; a lack of goals and a system of oversight that would assure educational quality; an insufficiency of advancement opportunities for good teachers; a shortage of resources for weaker students; few teaching hours and a disproportionate number of school holidays; crowded classes and school buildings that are not conducive to individualized teaching, customized to meet every student’s needs.
Another problem, and perhaps the most fundamental, is the low status of teaching as a career in Israel. The complaint that teaching is not a respected vocation is completely legitimate. Teaching must be perceived as a well compensated, highly regarded profession in order to attract the strongest candidates and improve the educational system as a whole.
It is better to ensure that teachers do not have to resort to the extreme action at their disposal in any democratic state, i.e. to strike. Teacher strikes do much damage to the student as well as the teacher. Just as there could be no justification for the shut down of emergency or operating rooms, so too there should be no justification for the cancellation of school for the sake of a teacher strike, especially right before the beginning of the new school year or the high school matriculation exams. Teaching is more than a career; it is a calling, and therefore a strike is never the appropriate recourse.
We must strengthen the sense of a “calling” in the field of teaching, firstly with measures increase the goodwill of teachers through pay rises and other means of proper compensation for hard work that often extends well beyond one’s official hours; and secondly through more rigorous requirements for teacher training, more mandatory pedagogy courses in the course of one’s career, and regular assessments of teacher quality.
Our sages taught, “Correct conduct precedes the Torah”. One of the fundamental roles of education is to help form the personality and moral sense of the student. Ensuring that every student grows to be a “mentsch” should take precedence over ensuring that every student be prepared for the professional world.
Education also plays a crucial role in strengthening the individual’s connection to the Jewish people. Through learning Jewish history, culture, and tradition, one’s emotional and intellectual bond with the Jewish people grows stronger. For this reason, Yisrael Beitenu advocates the establishment of a mandatory matriculation exam (Bagrut) in Judaism for all high school students.
Israel, as a progressive, Western country prides itself on its ability to significantly contribute to the fields of science, technology, and the liberal arts. In order for the “People of the Book” to continue and expand their role as a world-player in these fields, we must narrow the educational gaps between the socio-economically advantaged and the disadvantaged. Every child from every town is entitled to the same quality of education, which among other things, provides them with the tools to become professionals in the world market.
Of course, fundamental to all these educational goals is the dire need to eradicate all violence within the school walls and beyond them. There should be a student code of conduct that every student must study and to which he or she will be held.
Yisrael Beitenu advocates integration in education, however not at the expense of excellence in achievement. Unfortunately today, one usually comes at the expense of the other. In order to maximize the potential within the “Jewish genius”, the educational system must be open to innovative programs for gifted children.
In order to bring about great changes in the educational system, the government must make brave and radical changes. It was Janush Korczak who said, “If you wish to change the world – change education.