"Since the trips began, the Education Ministry has never bothered to check matters such as their effect on participants, their added value, the extent to which they achieve their goals, whether they alter teens' stances, or the reasons many teens abstain from them," Micha Lindenstrauss wrote in his report.
One of the main issues the comptroller's report addresses is the inability of many Israeli students to join these trips. The investigation found that the ministry collects almost no data on participants or how much parents pay each year.
The ministry's data does show that only secular and National-Religious schools belonging to the Jewish sector hold excursions to Poland, despite the Education Ministry's obligation to teach the Holocaust to all sectors in Israel. Of these schools, levels of participation in the trips correspond to the students' socio-economic status.
However, the comptroller warned, socio-economic status is just one of the factors that correspond to participation in the school trips. "Reasons for abstaining from the trip could be financial, emotional, ideological, or lack of awareness," the report says. "The system must check to what extent finances play a part in refraining from joining the trips."
School trips to Poland currently cost around $1,700, and some 25,000 students attend them every year.
Why not Germany?
The report also takes into account another complaint about the trips: The decision to visit only Polish death camps. It criticizes the decision to focus only on gas chambers and the destruction of Jewish life during the Holocaust, while ignoring "cultural and creative life before the Holocaust".
Professor Hanna Yablonka, Holocaust scholar and historian, is quoted in the report as saying, "The technical study of the Holocaust, the way in which Jews were slaughtered, the final solution, and the likes, are the least important issues educationally speaking.
"Aside from the pornography of evil, they have no educational value. In contrast, survivors' testimonies, thousand-year old Jewish culture, and the way in which the young state invested in construction rather than sinking in a cycle of destruction – all of these do have educational value, but no one teaches them."
The Education Ministry, says the report, has largely ignored public complaints and critiques, opting to keep the trips centered solely on the death camps in Poland rather than include countries such as Ukraine, Czech Republic, or even the place where it all began – Germany.
"It was not Poland, the country or its people, who perpetrated the Holocaust but rather Hitler, the Nazi party, and the Nazi military. Sometimes we miss the target by focusing on Poland," the Knesset's Education, Culture, and Sports Committee was cited in the report as saying.
The Education Ministry responded by stating that it agrees that "solely visiting Poland creates a historical distortion", the comptroller says, "yet it has not explained why it chooses to do so anyway."
The Education Ministry's response to the comptroller's claim, as it appears in the report, is that the considerations behind the current design of the trips include the facts that about 3.5 million Jews lived there prior to WWII, that the Nazis chose to concentrate most of the death camps there, and that Auschwitz has turned into the symbol of the Jewish Holocaust. Yet another reason is financial: Incorporating another destination into the itinerary would make it considerably more expensive.
Emotional impact goes unadressed
Another point of interest raised in the report is the effect that the trips have on the teens that take them. According the comptroller, those who oppose the trips claim that it causes emotional difficulties. Others say that some students see the trip more as a vacation abroad than an educational tour.
The comptroller claimed that to remedy these issues, the students must be better prepared for the journey. An Education Ministry-approved preparation curriculum does exist, but the comptroller said that the ministry rarely makes sure that it is properly followed.
More importantly, the comptroller noted, the education establishment has neglected the aspect of the program that occurs after the students return home. This aspect is identified by the Education Ministry as "the most important part of the journey - to help the teens deal with the personal questions and the difficulties that have been raised over the trip, and help them unload the emotional stress."
But the comptroller said that the Education Ministry has failed to obligate the schools to allocate school hours to deal with the post-trip phase.
"We don't have any sense of the significant emotional problems that occur in students who go on these trips," said Dr. Motti Shalem, founder of the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem.
"The psychology team at the Education Ministry attends seminars and is involved in the preparation for the trips. They should also address the problems that occur after the return to Israel."
Tamar Trablesi-Hadad contributed to the report
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