The Education System in Israel in the Time of the Coronavirus: Three Alternative Frameworks
Author: Nachum Blass
December 23, 2020
The Ministry of Education’s workplan for operating the system since the onset of the crisis has included reinforcing the infrastructure for remote learning (NIS 1.2 billion), hybrid learning (NIS 2.6 billion), protective equipment and hygiene (NIS 300 million) and solutions for special populations (NIS 200 million). Another proposed framework involves operating the school system in two shifts: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The main advantage of this proposal is that it reduces class-size without requiring additional construction; the main disadvantage is that it requires hiring up to double the number of teachers.
In this article, Nachum Blass, Principal Researcher and head of the Education Policy Program at the Taub Center, reviews the Ministry of Education’s hybrid model and the “Second Shift” plan proposed by many educators, and he proposes a third model that primarily involves a change in class size and a reduction in hours of learning.
Proposing a new framework: Reducing maximum class size
There are four main factors determining the expenditure on education: class size, number of teaching hours per class, teachers’ salaries and teachers’ work hours. In Israel, there are large classes, a high number of teaching hours per class, a low hourly wage for teachers and a large number of teachers’ work hours.
Nachum Blass presents a different proposal, not just as a temporary solution, but as a new and lasting framework for the education system. This approach primarily reduces class size and teaching hours per pupil, without changing teachers’ salaries and number of work hours:
- Israel’s current approach reflects a preference for large classes with a large number of teacher hours (60 weekly hours in elementary education and 80 in secondary education), as opposed to the OECD approach, which prefers small classes and a lower average number of teaching hours.
- Most teachers work a 75% position, so an elementary school with 10 classes will have 21 teachers while a secondary school will have 27 teachers. The high number of teachers makes it possible to significantly increase the number of classes, so long as this increase is accompanied by a reduction in the number of frontal teaching hours per class.
- Fears of this harming scholastic achievements can be assuaged by the fact that pupils in Israel learn more hours than those in the OECD, but do not attain higher scholastic achievements.
- To implement this approach, it is possible—and perhaps even necessary—to change the pedagogical organization of schools while maintaining teachers’ existing work hours.
Finding new classrooms for more, smaller-sized classes
- There will be a need to add 36,000 classrooms to meet the threshold of 20 pupils per class, and 10,000 to meet the threshold of 28 pupils per class.
- New classrooms could be created by: using existing spaces (science rooms, libraries, auxiliary classrooms, and “safe” spaces), empty classrooms, closed schools, and rooms in other public institutions; dividing existing rooms; and making physical changes to school buildings.
Planning for future lockdowns
Clearly, the model presented above is not relevant in the case of full lockdown. The following preparations could be made now to prepare for a situation in which there is another full lockdown:
- Reinforcement of the network of truant officers, guidance counselors, social workers, and public health nurses who can monitor the most vulnerable populations and stay in continual contact with them.
- Creation of a network of volunteers from among educators, both past and present, who will serve as mentors for students.
- Recruiting of students in the higher grades as mentors to students in the lower grades.
- Generous funding of remote informal educational activities, including the Ministry of Education covering relevant salaries.