Education minister considers making anthem obligatory; Arabs irate
In interview with Ynet just days before school year opens, Gideon Sa'ar outlines his plans for addressing deep problems within education system. On the agenda: Harsher disciplinary enforcement, strengthening connection to Zionist heritage. Arab Monitoring Committee: His motives political
"We will consider implementing the singing of the anthem in schools," said Sa'ar enthusiastically. "It is a worthy subject that must be considered. It is a good idea that isn't currently included in school discipline."
In addition, Sa'ar has issued a recommendation to the ministry that students stand every morning as the teacher walks in the room as a sign of respect, and to signify the end of break time.
'Strengthen connection to Zionism'
The education minister is not concerned about the criticism that will likely follow implementing such a move. Just two days ago, Sa'ar presented a proposal to the Knesset's Education Committee to implement a model of high-performing schools in which schools that excel will receive differential budgetary compensation. One of the parameters for determining excellence would be the graduates' rate of enlistment in the IDF or national service alongside compensation for outstanding academic accomplishments.
In a similar manner, education minister aims to strengthen Zionist heritage and to encourage IDF enlistment within the schools already within the coming year. This will be achieved by instituting guided class field trips to sites of Zionist and Jewish character and important battle sites around the country.
Sa'ar. Taking a tough approach on school violence (Photo: Dudi Vaaknin)
"I think it is important to strengthen the connection with the country, our heritage, and our nation. This is important to me as well as to the public, and is one of our central objectives in the coming year," said Sa'ar.
On the issue of violence, Sa'ar takes a hard-line approach. A legislative change he initiated stiffens punishment for disciplinary violations and violence in schools, including negative use of technology. However, he has noted that he does not believe in returning to the old method of discipline in which a student is sent to stand in the corner.
One of the central touch points of school violence is middle schools. Sa'ar believes that the division of grades as it stands today into elementary, middle, and high school, should be cancelled. "The reform that created middle schools in the 70s was apparently erroneous. However, in order to backpedal off of middle schools today, inconceivable funds are necessary," explained Sa'ar why he does not see this step being taken in the near future.
With the school year about to open, Sa'ar is considering making school uniforms obligatory. Another alternative being considered is enforcing a strict dress code, both for students and teachers.
'Quality of teachers must be improved'
Sa'ar is very concerned about the current situation in Israel's education system. According to him, "The crisis today is multi-faceted. "It is entirely clear that everything that needs to be changed cannot be done in one term," he said.
The most critical factor, according to him, for the success of the education system is the quality of school principals and teachers. To this end, he has invested many resources in recruiting quality human resources to the field of teaching, most notably from youth groups and high-tech. He is also trying to increase the acceptance criteria for teachers, so that more teachers within the system have second degrees in teaching.
The education minister also wants to make it easier for principals to fire teachers who are not up to par. "We will instruct principals to make more dismissals on a pedagogical basis, which is a much shorter process of dismissal. There are superb teachers in the system, but if there are teachers who aren't up to speed, they will be let go," he said.
In another bid to increase the level of teaching, Sa'ar wants to implement a system in which outstanding teachers dedicate their time to teach other teachers in a formalized framework.
Not a political springboard
Sa'ar is well aware that his roll as education minister comes with a heavy responsibility. He sees the position as an ideological one, rather than a political one.
"I feel like I am always walking around with a mountain on my back. There is a great sense of responsibility," he said. "I hope to live up to expectations, and I feel like there are a lot. I truly am trying to do the best possible for the education system. I do not inject political considerations (into what I do). Sure I have ideological calculations, but I truly want to advance the education system."
The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee called Sa'ar's proposals a "gimmick" and said that the minister's motives were political.
The committee said that in any case the Arab education system was an autonomous entity within the Education Ministry. "We've revived the Nakba ("catastrophe" of the State of Israel's inception) studies, as well as the Arab culture and language," committee member Ataf Mouadi said.