As the second-largest ministry in Israel, the Education Ministry also commands the second-largest budget. Each and every one of us must therefore ask ourselves the following question: What do the various parties that are vying for our votes plan to do with the ministry after the election?
Every education system in the world has a dual purpose: One is to prepare students for life in the country in which they live, and the other is to prepare them to compete in the global arena. Other than life in Israel – which requires dealing among other things with existential and ethical issues such as knowledge of the past, the significance of the term "a Jewish and democratic state," and also acceptance of the other – coping in the global arena requires for the most part knowledge of core subjects such as English, math and the sciences.
Our obligation to inquire into the educational agenda of the various political parties also gives us the opportunity, inherent in the election campaign to hear from our elected officials what action they intend to take to achieve the goals of the education system, and then to decide which of them will move things forward and which will simply rest.
The office holders will also be the policy makers, and they will be obliged to shape the system: There will be those who implement a policy that makes core studies mandatory for all sectors or only some of them; there will be those who will include tours of Hebron or history lessons about the Nakba in the curriculum; there will be those who demand that students perform volunteer work as a precondition for graduating; there will be those who stress the issue of equality on the backdrop of the fact that one in every three children in Israel lives below the poverty line; and there will be those who push for additional math and English classes in the periphery, or the provision of subsidized frameworks for children during the summer vacation.
The teachers at the schools have a crucial role to play in implementing the policy laid out. Schools will become places with a heart and soul, where each and every child is catered for, only when teaching sparks inspiration and the school experience is based on meaningful learning. So we have to ask: What is the educational agenda of those who seek to stand at the forefront?
There are of course budgetary issues that cannot be ignored: Funding in disadvantaged areas must be increased for the purpose of creating equal opportunities.
The budget for the construction of schools must be increased with the goal of reducing the number of children per class, teachers' wages need to be raised and their training should be amended and there is a need for more investment in informal education. Young, educated individuals should be encouraged to seek careers in education. So we have to ask: What are the priorities of those who seek to steer the ship?
The questions are clear – and we can't afford to make do with empty statement from politicians about the importance of education - we have to demand focused responses.
We have the power and opportunity to make a connection between the ballot we slip into the ballot box and the answers we get about their plans with respect to achieving the goals of the system. Only after we get the answers will we know who to vote for – and we will be able to keep an eye on the execution thereafter.
Alon Futterman is the CEO of The Israel Program Excellence in English.