Over two million kids — a record — begin new school year

Over two million kids — a record — begin new school year

First bell rings before September 1 for first time ever; government begins funding education for 3 and 4-year-olds

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

An illustrative photo of first-grade pupils and their teacher at Paula Ben Gurion school, Jerusalem, in August. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)
An illustrative photo of first-grade pupils and their teacher at Paula Ben Gurion school, Jerusalem, in August. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

Summer vacation has come to a close and two million Israeli children were set to return to schools and kindergartens nationwide on Monday morning.

To the dismay of children across the country, the Education Ministry began the 2012 school year five days earlier than usual. To the relief of parents, teachers, and administrators, the school year was starting uninterrupted by teacher strikes at over 4,500 government-run institutions.

Some 270,000 of the 2,005,000 pupils are 3 and 4-year-olds whose schooling is funded by the government’s free education initiative for the first time.

The Education Ministry reported the first day started off with only a few minor hitches, but some were worried over gaps in security for the schools.

While Israeli law requires all educational institutions with more than 100 students to have armed guards at the entrances, more than 100 schools nationwide were opening the school year without such security in place. Local authorities made efforts to hire additional guards, and some schools even turned to unarmed civilians to guard the school gates, but according to Maariv, some 3 percent of the country’s schools were still without proper security for the first day of school.

Eti Benyamin, the head of the National Parents Association, decried the fact that the authorities had not prepared for the situation despite having had time to do so. She called on parents to not send their children to any schools that lack armed security. Sources in the Education Ministry said that it is the responsibility of local authorities and the police to ensure that the schools are properly guarded.

A pre school year court battle has roiled Eilat, in the meantime, where children of asylum-seekers will not begin the school year with their Israeli counterparts. Despite an agreement made with the Education Ministry and petitioners to the High Court of Justice, the Eilat municipality announced that it will wait for High Court approval before integrating non-Israelis into public school classrooms.

Should the High Court approve the measure, children of asylum seekers would be assigned to special classes designed for their absorption into Israeli society, Israel Radio reported. After six months, the abilities of each student will be determined in order to fully integrate them into the normal classes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the manpower and finances that were invested in the education system “from top to bottom” this year.

“There is much good news regarding payments: Free education from age three – a savings of NIS 800 for every child, subsidized school trips and a significant reduction in text-book fees. Our government is investing great sums in education, for a better future,” Netanyahu said during a visit to the Education Ministry on Sunday.

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar also commended the reforms to the education system saying, “This is my fourth year as education minister that I open the school year smoothly and without strikes.”

Speaking at a weekly government meeting on Sunday, Sa’ar lauded moves that, he said, could propel Israel’s education system into the world’s top 10. Education is now state-funded from a younger age, afternoon programs are sponsored in poorer municipalities and youth movements strengthened around the country, he said.

Despite the improvements, 34% more Israeli parents have enrolled their children in private education in the past several years, Channel 10 reported. There were 1,856 private schools in Israel at the beginning of the 2010 school year; this summer that figure rose to 2,487.

“The governmental system is limited in its resources and pedagogy,” Attorney Keren Raz Moreg, an education expert, told Channel 10. “It is not suited to every student.”

Asher Zeiger contributed to this report.

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