Some 2,354,000 Israeli schoolchildren, from preschool age through high school, started the 2019-2020 academic year on Sunday morning, 170,000 of them for the first time.
They were received in the classroom by 200,000 teachers and school employees.
Despite threats of a nationwide teachers’ strike averted by a wage agreement with the Treasury last week, and amid protests at a handful of schools against the deportations of the children of Filipino workers, the school year opened largely without incident in 26,000 educational institutions nationwide.
In a letter to Israel’s schoolchildren, President Reuven Rivlin urged students to learn not only about their subjects, but about each other. “We only sometimes get the chance to become acquainted with and to learn about the way of life of another, about their beliefs and views. We have a long way still to go in building a deeper understanding between the disparate parts of Israeli society, and creating true equality of opportunity for all Israel’s children,” he wrote.
“But in my heart there is a great hope, an Israeli hope, for change and growth. This Israeli hope, the hope for a society where nothing stands in the way of ambition and talent, needs a smart and excellent public education system just like we require air to breathe.”
The theme for the school year, Education Minister Rafi Peretz announced, would be “mutual responsibility and strengthening of values.”
“In this age of enormous and complex challenges, our work does not end at the close of the school day,” Peretz said in a statement Sunday. “The education system’s job is to accompany the student, to shape their character outside the walls of the school as well. We want to help build here a moral society, with love of humanity and a commitment to mutual responsibility.”
The numbers tell a tale of Israel’s growing population: Some 132,000 12th-graders are entering their last year of public education, while 168,000 first-graders are starting their first.
According to the Education Ministry, 49 schools and 495 kindergartens are on strike Sunday, leaving 34,372 children at home at least for part of the day. All the strikes are by local teachers’ or parents’ groups over specific local concerns. Over 1,300 part-time contractor teachers are also striking to demand higher pay, affecting some 4,000 students.
In the Tel Aviv area, several schools will be hosting student protests against the deportations of their fellow classmates who are children of foreign workers, mostly from the Philippines.
The schools planning protests include: Balfour, Graetz, Ironi A’, Ilanot, Hillel Ramat Gan, Bialik Rogozin, Giv’on, and others.
In the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, the parents’ committee announced it was canceling a strike planned for Monday — originally called in protest over ongoing police arrest raids against violent protesters in the neighborhood.
The committee’s decision came after a meeting with Jerusalem’s Mayor Moshe Lion and police officials, and after two members of the parents’ committee were released after their arrest last week for allegedly threatening school principals who planned to open on time.
The Education Ministry opened a hotline at phone number 1-800-222-003 for parents, teachers and students to call with questions and problems linked to the new year, which will provide updated information on closures and strikes throughout the day.
The ministry promised Sunday that new efforts at “pedagogic innovation” would continue this year, including an expansion of the program to break down walls between classrooms and create larger learning spaces in schools, as well as new funding to expand school libraries.