Opportunities and Risks to the Education System in the Time of the Coronavirus: An Overview
Author: Nachum Blass Policy Research

The education system in Israel, as in other countries, is currently in crisis. The lockdowns imposed to stop the spread of the pandemic led­ most countries in the world, including Israel, to close schools and to increase the use of remote teaching. In addition to addressing immediate concerns related to operating the education system during and between lockdowns, attention should be devoted to the future implications of the crisis.

Students

School closures and the transition to remote learning greatly disrupted the learning experience for students.

  • Students from strong socioeconomic backgrounds can adjust to remote learning because they have the benefit of a sufficient number of computers at home, a fast Internet connection and quiet surroundings in which to study.
  • Weaker populations have less access to the necessary infrastructure, and the ability of parents with a lower socioeconomic status to help their children is also more limited.
  • In the Arab sector, 23% of students have no access to a computer or the Internet, compared to 41% among Haredim and only 2% among non-Haredi Jews.
  • It is more difficult to meet the needs of preschoolers, students with special needs and youth-at-risk using online teaching.
  • The damage from school closures goes beyond academic achievement, and includes among other things: risk of violence, reduced auxiliary services, diminished social interactions, and the cancellation of school lunches.

Teachers

From the point of view of teachers, remote teaching can lead to empowerment and autonomy, as indicated by the survey carried out by the Taub Center and the Israel Teacher’s Union after the first lockdown.

  • Most of the survey respondents (65%) feel that remote teaching strengthens their professional abilities and 43% feel that it reinforces their independence.
  • About 48% of the Arab Israeli respondents felt that they are now more familiar with their students and their families while about 25% agreed with this to only a limited extent. In the Jewish sector, the figures were about 42% and about 23%, respectively.
  • At the same time, 60% of the respondents stated that their students found it difficult to maintain a high level of motivation and interest.
  • About 66% and 56% of Jewish and Arab Israeli respondents, respectively, reported that their colleagues helped them or helped them to a great extent. In contrast, about 21% and 25% of Jewish and Arab Israeli respondents, respectively, reported that they got the same level of assistance from the Ministry of Education.
    Education 2

The future school

The formal education system will need to operate in a different manner in the future, combining learning in and outside of school. There are a number of potential advantages to using remote learning:

  • Strengthening of the social role – Remote teaching provides a solution for acquiring academic knowledge and skills, but schools can then take on greater importance as a place for interpersonal encounter and the acquisition of social and emotional skills.
  • Maintaining social cohesion – The role of the school as a place of encounter between children from various socioeconomic situations will become more important as distance learning expands and highlights the socioeconomic gaps between students.
  • Necessitating cooperation with informal educational frameworks – The change in schools is liable to restrict the activity of informal institutions such as youth movements.
  • Contact with parents – Parents will become active partners with teachers in their children’s learning process.
  • Partnerships with bodies external to the education system – Public bodies, non-profit organizations and corporations have helped the education system quickly shift to remote teaching, and will continue to do so.

The Ministry of Education

The main failure of the Ministry of Education has been the lack of preparedness for prolonged activity during a period of crisis. Steps required to prepare the system in the case of another full or partial lockdown include:

  • Reaching a consensus with the teachers’ organizations regarding the extent of remote teaching within teachers’ work hours.
  • Shifting the dates of vacations in the summer and during the year according to the date on which the system is forced to close the schools, whether fully or partially.
  • The preparation of a budget reserve for operating programs such as summer schools and summer camps while complying with the health directives.
  • Transparency in the decision-making and advisory processes carried out together with educators.

An opportunity for long-term change

In addition to the problems that have arisen in the education system, the crisis may have presented a unique opportunity for dramatic change in the education system. Steps that could be taken at this unique moment in time include:

  • Reinforcement of efforts to reduce scholastic gaps: Resources need to be allocated towards the improvement of the technological infrastructure and to provide every pupil with a computer and fast Internet, regional learning centers need to be established, and there is a need for an increased number of positions for truancy officers to prevent drop-outs. Priority should be given to assisting weak students.
  • A fundamental change in the matriculation exams: This could be the time to replace the matriculation exams with a high school completion certificate, to deepen learning, to increase the autonomy of the teaching staff and to upgrade teaching methods and material to meet the needs of the 21st
  • Creation of a National Education Council: This would be an independent body that critically examines the goals, principles and rules that guide the education system; that will monitor trends; and that will formulate proposals and work plans. It is desirable that such a body will operate as part of the Prime Minister’s Office.