Attn: The (next) Minister of Education
The elections are (hopefully) behind us, and after the long hiatus it is time to focus on the most urgent tasks facing the new government – no matter who forms it. There are significant challenges in almost every field, including a need for major reforms in the Israeli public education system. Some of the pressing issues the incoming minister of education, regardless of who he (or she) is, will find on his desk are:
Raising teachers' starting salaries
In order to advance the education system by improving the retention of good teachers, it is essential to change the pay scale of teachers so that they earn more in their first five years on the job. The current (soon to expire) wage agreements offer incentives only to experienced teachers, which is a main cause of dropout among the next generation of educators.
Comparing teacher salaries in Israel and other OECD countries clearly shows why a reform is urgently necessary. Starting Israeli teachers in junior high school, for example, earn ILS 4,500 less per month than the OECD average.
Strategic plan for early childhood education
Social gaps in Israel begin at birth, and (sadly) it is possible to predict the life outcomes of children according to the place where they grow up and the socioeconomic status of their parents. Changing this situation and promoting equal opportunity must start as early as possible, because the first thousand days of a child's life are a crucial period with a deep impact on his or her future.
Despite many recommendations over the years, in Israel state responsibility for the education of children starts only when they reach the age of 3. What we need is a comprehensive plan that will ensure that all Israeli children have access to supervised, high-quality education and care from birth. A government task force should be set up to oversee the implementation of such a plan, led by the Ministry of Education.
New teaching methods
The national "Meaningful Learning" reform was introduced in 2014 to promote 21st century skills such as creativity, teamwork, information and technology literacy, critical thinking and problem solving. The effort to reach this still-relevant goal should be continued and deepened, by introducing innovative methods and practices of both teaching and learning. Instead of exam-oriented education, the emphasis should be on learning motivated by passion, curiosity and experimenting and assisted by technology, which gives students tools for tomorrow.
Expansion of differential budgeting
One of the major structural obstacles that limit the education system's ability to promote equal opportunity is the budget gaps between municipalities. As we saw in this post, affluent communities invest more resources in their students than under-resourced ones. To close these gaps, it is necessary to extend the differential budgeting system to high schools, as well as to informal education frameworks such as youth movements.
It is important to understand that social disparities become even more pronounced after school, when children from well-to-do families enjoy opportunities for enrichment and personal development that other families can't afford. Informal education programs serve as a lifeline for many children in the geographic and social periphery; therefore we must regard education as one comprehensive system that addresses the child's needs – developmental, emotional and educational – from nursery school to high school and throughout the day.