Israel must find solutions to its poor school performance – opinion
The world entered the COVID crisis a year and a half ago and one fact remains hard to ignore – weak students and weak families have been hit hardest. The economic, educational and social disarray caused by the pandemic has had the greatest impact on the most disadvantaged part of the population. Two surveys recently published in the Israeli press highlight worrying trends and a lack of political initiatives to address the needs of Israel’s vulnerable children.
The education picture is complemented by similarly gloomy economic statistics. The Social Policy Institute at the University of Washington has found that 17% of Israeli families with children cannot afford the amount or type of food they need for normal development. At the height of the COVID crisis, food insecurity affected a quarter of Israeli families. The association between food insecurity and risk to children’s physical and mental health and behavioral well-being has been well documented. What is most alarming about the report is how food insecurity has grown from a problem affecting only the lower socio-economic segment of the population to one which also affects the middle class. Israeli food banks and social budgets have grown only marginally, forcing Israeli citizens to depend on loved ones and charity for additional funding. Despite the promise to increase the government’s budget for food security from NIS 20 million to NIS 118 million in 2022, the first budget was passed with just NIS 23 million.
Recently, I had the privilege of participating in Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s address to North American Jewish leaders. I was struck by his passion for history and the way he placed the current administration of Israel in a context of Jewish sovereignty dating back to the First and Second Temple periods. I enjoyed his description of how the coalition partners, who previously demonized each other, work together to address the real governance issues of a modern and complicated state.
But talking is not enough. Israel rightly believes that its best natural resource is its brainpower. This means that if Israel is to continue securing a vibrant and prosperous future, it must invest intelligently and fully in its children. There are several actions to be taken to make this dream a reality: First, the identification and implementation in Israel of educational strategies used successfully around the world to engage and maximize the potential of students. Additional tutoring, after-school programming, and enrichment can all play a part in exposing students to the world of possibilities and breaking the glass ceiling for underprivileged children. Second, rigid rules on teacher classifications, classroom requirements and exams must be replaced with flexible policies and structures dedicated to the acquisition of 21st century skills. And third, there must be an institutional force to reallocate government budgets to provide families and children with additional costs and support in terms of food, shelter and social assistance.
If this does not happen, the additional costs of poor health and low employment will very quickly eclipse the so-called savings resulting from a lack of investment in Israel’s future.
The writer is president of the AMIT educational network.