Education minister vows school year will open on time

Yoav Gallant says efforts are being made to ensure that every student in the country can distance learn if necessary, although ministry cannot yet commit to reaching that goal

Screen capture from video of Education Minister Yoav Gallant during in interview with Channel 12 news. (Channel 12 news)
Screen capture from video of Education Minister Yoav Gallant during in interview with Channel 12 news. (Channel 12 news)

Education Minister Yoav Gallant on Monday said the upcoming school year will open on time on September 1, despite the pandemic.

Although Gallant did not go into detail on how schools will operate during the ongoing health crisis, an Education Ministry plan unveiled last week called for limitations on the number of students in each class and older children mostly having classes via distance learning.

“The school year will open on September 1. Period,” Gallant said, directly addressing the public during an interview with Channel 12 television. “We have plans, I sat for hours with the finance minister, he was convinced by things, he is cooperating on the matter. I found partners in the local authorities and the teachers’ unions, and the prime minister is leading the process, he was convinced.”

Gallant said he intends to present a completed plan in an organized manner to the government and the local authorities.

“We will present it and in my opinion from that moment people can start working [on it], on September 1 the kindergartens and schools will open, some with distance learning,” he said.

Gallant said that great efforts are being made to enable every student to learn remotely, although he cannot yet commit that it is feasible.

“We are working on it in all seriousness,” he said. “[User] end equipment, school infrastructure, content that can be purchased anywhere, as well as training for teachers and principals,” he said. “This is complex work, we are talking about 2.5 million students and teachers.”

Cleaning workers disinfect a classroom at the Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem on June 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Gallant also condemned an unauthorized school graduation party attended by over 100 students and held at their Jerusalem high school, in violation of government orders limiting public gatherings.

“This is unacceptable,” he said and noted he had ordered a clarification of the incident.

Earlier Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said summer schools will continue to operate, at least through the end of the week.

The announcement followed a meeting of the prime minister with the defense minister, education minister, science minister, and other top officials. Last week the government had threatened to cancel all summer school and camps in an effort to curb the virus spread.

Gallant told Channel 12 the decision came after he presented data showing that the infection rate among those attending summer educational programs is lower than the national average.

Teachers check students before a summer camp at Wylie High School in Wylie, Texas, July 14, 2020. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Last week, Gallant revealed an outline of his plans for the coming school year that will see classes limited to 18 students each and grades

According to the Education Ministry plan, in-person classes, including at daycares and kindergartens and through high school, will be capped at 18 students. Most students will learn part of the time remotely online, with high school students only attending classes in person once a week.

Grades 1-4 will have regular classes but with no more than 18 students together in a room.

Kindergartens will be divided into two areas using a partition and funding will be provided for additional support staff.

Gallant said at a press conference that all students will come into school at least once a week.

Setting up the education system to work under the proposed framework will cost NIS 2 billion ($583 million) and a further NIS 1 billion every month after that, Gallant said.

Schools were closed in mid-March, but almost all classes were okayed to return by the second week of May in a move that some policy experts have blamed for the resurgence of the virus in recent weeks. The government eventually clamped down on high school classes at the end of the school year, but has taken few steps to close or limit schools since then, allowing summer school to continue for lower grades.

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