50,000 Israeli kids lack basic school supplies, 20% without computers, internet

As school year set to start with unprecedented reliance on remote learning amid pandemic, charity report says tens of thousands of children don’t have all the equipment they need

Illustrative: Students and teacher at Hashalom School in Mevaseret Zion, near Jerusalem, May 17, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Students and teacher at Hashalom School in Mevaseret Zion, near Jerusalem, May 17, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Over 50,000 Israeli school children will start the academic year without the equipment they need, and one fifth of students don’t have a computer or the internet access required for remote learning, a report said Thursday.

The Latet organization, which provides various welfare and food aid services to those in need, said 53,000 children were lacking the basic supplies needed to start the school year, with the situation exacerbated by the need for online learning.

Thirteen-year-old Zohar, who comes from a low-income family and has a sister with visual and hearing impairments and lives with her grandmother and mother, told Channel 12 news about the difficulties she faces without the basic supplies needed for learning.

“[The school] asked me to bring study materials like pencils, pens, colored pens, markers, notebooks. I don’t have them,” she said. “My friends have them but I don’t. I always sit on the sidelines and watch my friends enjoy using what they have.”

Thirteen-year-old Zohar, whose family can’t afford necessary school supplies, August 27, 2020 (screen grab/Channel 12 news)

The hardship has been exacerbated by the need to move to remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I have no computer or tablet. I need to be with my instructor and use a group computer. It’s not fun for everyone to see the things I do,” Zohar said, apparently describing a situation whereby the teacher’s screen is shared with the students.

A report by Latet in December, even before the start of the pandemic, said some 2.3 million Israelis, including one million children, live under the poverty line. It also found that nearly one-fifth of Israelis, over 1.6 million people, suffer from food insecurity, a 2-point increase over 2018.

Israel’s gross domestic product plunged by 28.9 percent in the second quarter of 2020, as compared to the first quarter, in the worst economic downturn in over 40 years, according to an official estimate by the Central Bureau of Statistics earlier this month.

Although lockdown measures were mostly rolled back in recent months, unemployment is over 21%, according to the Employment Services figures, with nearly 847,500 people out of work.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and the government’s coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu made the decision to open schools at the start of September on Tuesday.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant holds a press conference in Tel Aviv, August 6, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Classes will be held according to the Education Ministry’s “Safe Learning” plan, which was developed in response to the pandemic and will see smaller class sizes in the younger grades and an emphasis on distance learning from grades 5 through 12.

Officials are looking into the possibility of delaying the openings of high schools in cities with high infection rates until October, after the Jewish holidays, the Education Ministry said. That decision would affect 10th- through 12th-graders.

The Education Ministry has faced criticism over concerns that the education system was unprepared for the new restrictions imposed by the pandemic. The swift reopening of school in May has been blamed for the resurgence of the virus, which had nearly disappeared while schools were shut.

The legislation to grant funding to schools to deal with the pandemic did not reach a planned Knesset vote on Wednesday night, after the coalition apparently failed to gather enough lawmakers to support the bill ahead of a week-long summer recess.

The vote will now be delayed until after the school year begins. The Finance Committee previously approved the legislation, which amounts to NIS 1.75 billion ($515 million) for schools.

Israel has been operating without a 2020 budget, meaning ministries must use 2019 budget numbers, which do not cover the pandemic, even as schools and other institutions grapple with the expenses of coping with the coronavirus.

Haredi children from the Bnei Moshe Kretchnif ultra-Orthodox school wear face masks at their school in the city of Rehovot, on May 24, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Earlier this week, Gallant rolled out a new education plan for opening schools, which will add some NIS 4.2 billion ($1.24 billion) to the education budget annually, a roughly 7 percent increase from the ministry’s NIS 60 billion ($18 billion) annual budget.

Gallant did not specify where the extra billions would come from.

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