Leo Baeck 1


Sep 2005 Journal

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Letter from Israel

Fed up with the poor performance of Israeli pupils by international standards, Israel's energetic Minister of Education, Limor Livnat, appointed a committee, headed by businessman Shlomo Dovrat, to review the education system and recommend changes.

After months of deliberations, the committee came up with a number of suggestions: the American-style junior high schools, introduced with considerable pain, expense and effort 20 years ago, should be abolished, the system reverting to its original primary- and secondary-school arrangement.

The committee also recommended cutting the school week from six to five days, with pupils remaining in school until 4 o'clock instead of the current school day, which ends at 1 or 2 o'clock (and 12 noon on Fridays). Sunday is an ordinary weekday in Israel, of course.

Public reaction was mixed. But then a new element erupted onto the scene. A red-haired teenager living in Ramat Gan sent SMS messages to his friends, information was disseminated via the internet, and, before anyone knew what was happening, a general walk-out by 200,000 junior-high and secondary-school students ensued.

The pupils objected to the fact that no one had consulted them in deciding to make radical changes in their lives. Schoolchildren in Israel are accustomed to long afternoons in which they are free to engage in extramural activities, swim, socialise and pursue their hobbies. Above all, they are not prepared to sit through a long, boring school day without a hot meal. The Dovrat Commission made no provision for school dinners, suggesting that pupils bring sandwiches from home.

Threatening dire consequences for the pupils involved, the Ministry of Education has been forced to rethink its plan. Statements have mentioned logistical problems, budgetary constraints, and so forth, and the changes have been put on hold for the moment. It looks as if that moment is going to be quite long.
Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

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