Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More dangerous than Iran

Roni Sofer

Teachers who are forced to return to class via Labor Court injunctions would be a very bad thing for Israeli education. Education crisis threatens Israel’s future, but top officials only care about money

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On, and Education Minister Yuli Tamir know this too – this is why they want to reach an agreement. However, that would be a forced agreement, or just like the godfather once said, an offer you can’t refuse: The kids will go back to school and the teachers will go back to teaching classes of more than 40 students with their tail between their legs.

As it turns out, money blinds ministers. True, education costs plenty of money. Teachers need to be paid, and paid well, and the children must learn in the best possible conditions. After all, the why we look is based on our education system. Cheap education has high costs, and this isn’t a cliché. Look at the results of international comparative tests ever since our teachers have been paid the same salaries as those who serve tea at the high-tech industry.

Israel’s education keeps deteriorating and all those who came up with reforms can read the writing on the wall. Everyone can still read around here, thank God.

Olmert, Bar-On and Tamir have been quarreling with the teachers as if they are bargaining at the bazaar; As if we’re talking about the balance sheets of a commercial company. You give us so and so hours, they tell the teachers, and we’ll give you so and so more money. You will give us more hours of instructions and receive fewer benefits. You will give us more work, for less money. They were treating the teachers like an American capitalist treats hungry workers at a Third World shoe factory. Instead of glorifying those entrusted with one of the few natural resources Israel has, they were dragging them back to class with a court order.

We cannot complain about Olmert and Bar-On, who were never suspected of subscribing to a socialist worldview. When they say they are concerned about breaching salary agreements we are not surprised, because we are familiar with their worldview. However, we are surprised to see them backed by the education minister. She is supposed to take care of our young generation using any means available to her, yet she went to court to drag the teachers back to class. She, who knows more than anyone the worth of government pledges.

Yuli Tamir, who is supposed to side with the teachers, was dragging them back to class instead of demanding that Bar-On and Olmert earmark to education another part of the government reserve of 7.7 billion shekels (roughly $2 billion) reported last week.

This story is all about money
Yet Olmert, Bar-On and Tamir dare say that there is no money now for what is needed to upgrade the education system and its teachers. When we ask the man in charge of the Treasury, Bar-On, he makes it clear that he must safeguard the government reserve for tough days ahead. “Look at the costs of the Second Lebanon War,” he would say.

Bar-On’s and Olmert’s view is that we should mortgage the future of our children for the sake of our future wars. However, through this flawed perception, we won’t have any soldiers who learned our right for this country at school. They would regrettably prefer a safer future in a country where rampant capitalism and privatization were invented.

The teachers’ strike placed a mirror in front of Israeli society. It made it clear to all those who care about the future of Israel that the education crisis is more threatening than the threats of Iran, Syria and Hamas put together.

All parents here sense intuitively that their children do not get what they deserve. In a country that makes pretenses to be a global knowledge superpower, education is being quantified into shekels and shekels are being quantified into working hours. Those who are currently privatizing the future of our children are indeed speaking highly about education, but are unwilling to pay teachers in this country what they deserve. This story is all about money.

Roni Sofer is a Ynet reporter

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