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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Botched Strike

Today is the last day of Hanukkah, so it's back to school tomorrow. After almost 2 months, the high-school teachers' strike in Israel is drawing to an end, so hopefully tens of thousands of teenagers will finally start their school year in the coming days.The teachers' union and the government are about to sign a deal, giving the teachers a small raise (a few percent). This is basically same deal the general labour union (Histradrut) got from the government after striking for half a day a few months ago.

So all the talk about raising teachers' pay by 50% and agreeing on sweeping reforms in education has fizzled to a few percentage points. Nothing to write home about. Certainly not worth keeping kids away from school for weeks. The union's failure in this case is yet another example of the "value for money" organised labour get you.

The education system in Israel has many faults. Slowly but surely those who value better education, and are willing to pay for it, are moving to semi-private schools. The ultra-religious have had their private system for decades. The national-religious have in effect privatised their igh-schools through the system of "high-schoool yeshivah". There are almost no religious public high schools left in Israel, and those that are still around are typically in poorer cities and neighbourhoods. "Free education" is fast becoming an empty slogan. Parents are required to pay extra for books, extra-curricular activities (many of which are nothing but an extended timetable after "regular" school hours), school trips and much more. Despite this, over-crowded classrooms and short school hours are still the norm.

If the government does not make education a national priority (my guess: it won't), then the education system will go down the same path as the health system. Private healthcare in Israel is no longer for the rich only. Many families pay for private health insurance and many more for "enhanced" insurance through the existing national plans. Those who have, or those who are willing to pay extra, will get to the same place with education; those who don't, will be left behind.

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