Sunday, May 13, 2007

Education strikes

The strike of the university students in Israel became violent on Wednesday after nearly 2 weeks of demonstrations around the country. There was a clash between riot police and ca. 3,000 student strikers who blocked the entranace to the main Ayalon Highway north of Tel Aviv, and 32 students were arrested.
Why are the student's striking? That's a good question that many ordinary citizens would like to know the answer to. They are protesting the increase in student fees that they claim have doubled in one year. They also protest the lack of payment of government funds to the universities to subsidise student costs according to the recommendations of the Shochat Committee, a Government Commission of enquiry that was set up to recommend improvements in the educational system. So basically it all boils down to money.
Also, the universities, that are suffering as a result of the strike, have issued a joint declaration that if the strike does not end this week, then the whole semester will be cancelled. That means that the students will have to repeat a whole new semester to make up for the time lost. While faculty have issued statements supporting the students, they have also called on students to forsake the streets for the classrooms and not to lose the precious time that they need to learn and study for exams. They only have one chance at this.
At the same time as these strikes, the secondary school teachers in Israel are striking for more pay and improved conditions. They are having rolling strikes that target schools in different parts of the country on different weeks. They also protest the lack of implementation of the conclusions of the Shochat Committee. No doubt they have valid complaints, but these strikes are hurting the children as well as the country.
Teachers are among the worst paid workers in almost every country, but in Israel they receive the lowest salary among all the advanced western nations. The students are also poorly supported.
On the other hand, the country, although strong economically, is still reeling from the cost of the 2006 Lebanon War, and from the improvements in the IDF that have been decided are necessary in light of the findings of the Winograd Committee. So you have here competitive claims on the limited government pie from two legitimate and justified committees. It is almost impossible to implement all decisions of both Committees, and others. Israel is a small country with limited resources and overwhelming needs, both in defense and education. All needs cannot be satisfied concurrently.


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