More than 2 million children and teenagers — 2,194,931, to be precise — headed out to kindergartens, elementary schools and high schools Tuesday morning, as the 2015-16 school year began, the Education Ministry said.
The number of students in school represents a 2.29 percent rise over the previous school year, according to a statement from the ministry. The number of children in preschools — almost 317,000 — has risen by 3.43% over last year. One hundred and fifty-seven thousand, four hundred and seventy-seven children began first grade on Thursday, while 118,721 entered their 12th and last year of school. They will study in 68,271 classrooms in 4,714 schools across the country, under the guidance of 166,208 teachers and other education professionals.
Education Ministry director Michal Cohen said that the school year “started as planned.” It is not uncommon for the beginnings of school years to be marred by strikes or work stoppages called by parents or teachers associations.
A smooth opening to the school year “allows all pupils and teachers to begin the task of education today with a smile,” she added.
While the first day of school did start without a hitch in most institutions, 47 church-run schools did not open the year on Tuesday due a financing dispute with the government. Three Bedouin schools in the Negev region also remained closed, in protest over the appointment of new principals.
In the ultra-Orthodox community of Elad, 500 children from two schools had yet to start the year as parents protested against construction in the school building that, they said, endangered the pupils.
In Kfar Yona, 34 children from a religious kindergarten did not come to class. The Education Ministry said parents did not want children from the Ethiopian community to study with their kids.
A state-wide high school strike announced Monday was averted after the head of the Israel Teachers Association, Ran Erez, met on Monday evening with Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
Bennett on Tuesday told Israel Radio that his daughter Avigail was “very excited about being so big, and going into first grade.”
He was also proud of a reform still in the works to increase the number of teachers and reduce the number of pupils per class. “It’s pretty amazing,” he said, “that she was supposed to be in a class of 37 kids and now will study in a class of 28 children.
“Today Israel’s children are entering an education system that is more personal and more humanist,” the minister said.
Bennett said that during coalition talks he demanded NIS 630 million for the ministry in order to achieve three goals: reducing the number of children in classes, recruiting more teachers’ assistants for kindergartens, and investing more in math teaching across the country.
“Today, we can check [the boxes] on two of those goals,” he said.
A program to boost math studies aims to double the number of teachers teaching five matriculation units of math as opposed to four (in the Israeli system each unit signifies a level of studies, with five units in any given subject being the highest) from the current 1,000 to 2,000 within five years. Additionally, Bennett wants to add 15,000 hours of math studies countrywide.