After overcoming a significant obstacle in the form of a teacher's union strike, an estimated 2,535,000 students from kindergarten to 12th grade are back in schools today, marking the start of the new academic year. This includes a cohort of 181,000 first-grade students, embarking on a 12-year educational journey with great anticipation.
A recent agreement reached between the Teachers' Union and the Ministry of Education has paved the way for this smooth start. Under the new agreement, certain holidays like Hagg, the Feast of Omer, and the Lent of Esther will now be regular school days, while a few other holidays will be rescheduled. Additionally, teachers will be granted two personal vacation days during the academic year. Although these changes are now in effect for kindergartens, elementary schools, and middle schools, negotiations for similar adjustments in secondary schools are still ongoing.
Ultra-Orthodox educational institutions, such as Chabad, the independent education, and Bnei Yosef, began their academic year two weeks ago, aligning with the first day of the month of Elul. These institutions accommodate hundreds of thousands of students, including those from Abrachi kollelim and yeshivas.
The resolution of the recent dispute between the Teachers' Organization and the Ministry of Education and Finance ensured that half a million 10th to 12th-grade students could start their school year on time. These students had been facing uncertainty until the last minute. The agreement focused on a new salary structure for teachers.
However, the return to school is accompanied by challenges stemming from the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and a year of sanctions. High school students are contending with educational, social, and emotional gaps, and they hope for a more stable year ahead. Notably, the education system is also grappling with a shortage of teachers, particularly in kindergarten and special education.
Education Minister Yoav Kish introduced this year's central theme, "Education for All Opinions," aimed at promoting dispute management skills and addressing societal polarization. Schools have been given flexibility to tailor content while emphasizing diverse perspectives and encouraging constructive dialogue.
Addressing the rising concerns of violence against students and teachers, a comprehensive plan titled "Together to Create a Safe Space" has been implemented by the Ministry of Education. The plan includes expanded powers for administrators and supervisors to address disciplinary issues and sanctions for students engaging in various forms of violence.
Furthermore, Minister Kish's new baccalaureate reform is set to be implemented this year. High schools will have the flexibility to blend the new reform with the old one, allowing for a transition period. Grades 11 and 12 students can choose between the current matriculation outline and the previous one, with most schools opting to embrace the new matriculation exams.
As students step into a new academic year filled with changes and hopes, they aim to overcome challenges, bridge gaps, and create a conducive learning environment while adapting to the evolving landscape of education and society.