After a summer dominated by Code Red sirens and few days of real vacation, 2,105,394 students will return to school in some 2,100 new classrooms and 495 preschools that were built to meet demand in the new school year.
But despite the violent summer, parents seem more concerned over overcrowded classrooms than the possibility of renewed fighting.
As more and more parents join what has been called as the "Sardine Protest" – a reference to the problem of crammed classroom in which children are packed in like sardines – the new school year will see an attempt to find a solution for the overcrowding, and will serve as a "transitionary year", in which the Education Ministry will not allow the opening of classrooms of non-standard size in unsuitable conditions.
Children and parents protest together against overcrowded classrooms in Holon in June (Photo: Yaron Brener)
Meanwhile, Education Minister Shai Piron promised to launch a national program that will address the problem. Commenting on these developments, the initiators of the protest said: "As a result of our joint efforts with the parents association, we are receiving solutions for schools across the country that are particularly crowded."
Kindergartens across the country will welcome 149,705 first-time students as 112,750 begin their last year in the education system and 164,999 instructors and teachers continue their careers.
Extending his wishes to all Israeli students and teachers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday: "I want to congratulate the Minister of Education, the ministry's workers and the teachers for their efforts, under conditions of uncertainty, towards the opening of the school year. We wish a successful, productive and safe year to all the children of Israel, the schools and the nursery schools."
Commenting on the 50 days of Operation Protective Edge that took place during the summer, the prime minister said: "I would like to say something to the Israeli children: I know that you did not have a proper summer vacation and I hope that you will find the time during the upcoming holidays to rest and have a good time with your families and your friends.
"I want to commend you for listening to your parents during the military campaign," Netanyahu added, "and for being part of our national cohesion, which is one of Israel's greatest strengths. I want to assure you, the parents, that together with the Minister of Education and the team of teachers and preschool teachers, we will continue to ensure your children's safety during this year. I wish all a successful year, in all respects."
Meanwhile, Education Minister Shai Piron addressed the NIS 480 million cut from the education budget. "We must remember that we're after a war, and war costs money – and we are showing solidarity," Piron said, adding that "in the coming days, we will find a way to create a reality in which none of the 'core' programs are harmed."
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Rabbi Shai Piron, on Sunday (Photo: Haim Zach, GPO)
In light of the open-ended ceasefire in Gaza, educational facilities are due to open for the new school year across Israel as originally planned. Operation Protective Edge however, has had a deeper effect on future schooling, even changing curriculum so that the first two weeks of classes will focus on discussions on how to strengthen "the personal resilience of the students," according to the Education Ministry.
According to the plan, student discussions will be held at the beginning and at the end of the school day to talk about personal experiences during the summer break and the difficulties faced during wartime as well as how students dealt with the situation.
One of the activities to take place during the meetings will be called, "Pictures from the Album", requiring the students to choose photos from the media that show the operation and to describe what they think happened before and after the picture was taken. Educational institutions in the Gaza vicinity will emphasize the way in which residents fled their homes due to rocket fire.
"We are in continuous contact with the authorities and we are preparing to begin the year," said the Director-General of the Education Ministry Michal Cohen. "The sentence 'returning to normal' has a lot of meaning. The message from the children in the south has been 'we want normalcy, but we also want our vacation.'"
"It was clear to us that we aren't teaching normally," said Cohen. "The entire country went through a rough time and we can't go back to (school) as if nothing happened. We heard from the students that they feel the safest and most normal in educational institutions, which isn't surprising because that's where they meet the faculty and their friends."
Cohen stressed that, "The motivation to return to school is the motivation to return to life."
Mor Baum (28), a graduate of the Kibbutzim College of Eduction, will realize her childhood dream on Monday, when she begins her first year as a teacher. "I'll be a teacher in 5th grade at 'Afik' school in Be'er Sheva. It's very stressful. It's a new job and also Operation Protective Edge hasn't helped all this."
"I'm full of fears," said Baum. "I'll go to my class with a lot of sensitivity and caution. I won't be a hero and say that I know exactly what to do and what will happen, but I will let them say what's in their hearts and we'll deal with things together."
According to Baum, "It's easy for everyone to criticize the system from the outside, but actually because of that I need to be there. I aspire to bring new and fresh spirit and I hope that I'll wake up every morning and remember why I chose this path."
In contrast, Yuval Saadoun will be beginning her last year at the Ashkelon School of the Arts. "It still hasn't sunk in that we're going back to school and normalcy. It's a little sad that the vacation is already over and we didn't have time to do anything. We're returning this year without back-packs, no one prepared for the new year in any way and it feels a little weird.
Saadoun added that, "I'm excited and sad. I would have been happy to stay in school another few years. I hope that this year will go by quickly and that we'll have fun and most importantly that we'll have quiet."