Amid coronavirus crisis: 'If Super-Pharm is open, schools should be too’

Parents, principles and educational experts say coronavirus led to unprecedented educational and emotional gaps among the country’s children. Now, they must be closed

Back to school, as the new school year begins, September 1, 2020 (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)
Back to school, as the new school year begins, September 1, 2020
The students of March 2020 are not the ones who have been returning to their classrooms this November and December.
Months of intermittent lockdowns and distance learning have left vast educational and emotional gaps among the country’s students, according to educational and health experts. Failing Zoom classes have rocked the worlds of Israel’s students, causing a severe decline in self-confidence.
Now, experts say, without adequate support tools for teachers and students, not only will these gaps not be bridged, but they will increase. Moreover, without a commitment to keep schools open whether there is a third or even fourth closure, the children will not be able to catch up.
“The students’ lives were put on hold which led to physical, social deterioration,” said Olga Fox from Rishon Lezion, the mother of 10-year-old Lia.
She said that she watched as Lia and her friends woke up every morning and stayed in pajamas, making it hard for them to bolster the drive to do the day’s educational tasks. Overtime, some children lost motivation to see their friends, spending their days instead playing on the computer or watching TV.
“Even if they could meet, they did not really want to,” Fox said. “They are not used to meeting anymore. Getting dressed and going to school: ‘Why?’ they ask themselves, when they could just do class from their couch.”
Recall, that schools closed with the first lockdown in March, quickly reopened in late May and June, shuttered for the summer and then barely resumed before Israel lockdown again on Rosh Hashanah.
Preschoolers returned to school on October 18, first and fourth graders on November 1, fifth and sixth graders on November 24 and highschoolers on November 29. Middle schoolers are expected to go back to school on Sunday.
“Even if, God forbid, we reach another lockdown, the education system must stay open,” Education Minister Yoav Gallant said Tuesday in a video posted on his Facebook page. “I will fight for this issue for you, the student, parents and teachers.”
Gallant’s words echoed those of MK Ram Shefa, who announced earlier Tuesday at the Knesset that the goal of his Education, Culture and Sports committee was to define the educational system as “an essential enterprise so that it remains open even if another closure is decided upon.”
“If Super-Pharm is open, schools should be too,” stressed educator Dalit Stauber.
A visiting faculty member at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation - Israel, Stauber served as the director-general of the Education Ministry from 2011 to 2013. She described school as the “most important service for the wellbeing of Israel’s children - physical, emotional, social and educational. Kids deserve school.”
According to Stauber, even the recent “return to school” is only a partial return, which is not well planned enough to effectively close gaps, especially because each school district is only managing to meet the challenge in its own way based on resources and abilities. Weaker districts are weakening and so are the students who live in them.
“Zoom was very different for each sector. Kids who were motivated and who had the technology they needed were more connected to Zoom,” Stauber said. “Around 450,000 students across the country don’t even have the infrastructure to connect to the Internet for learning and there are those who had a computer or Internet, but maybe there was one in a house for four kids and they needed to divide up. This is very challenging.”
Psychotherapist Yehuda Leeman said that the crisis created the haves and the have-nots. People with the financial ability bought a computer for each child, took off work to sit with their children and tutor them or pay someone to do it.
“If it seems to anyone that we are succeeding in closing the gap - it is not happening,” said Orit Gur Arieh of the Association of School Principals on Tuesday. According to her, the current regulations provide a sound solution socially but they will not close the pedagogical gaps that have been created. “The matriculation exams must be rethought because the children will not be ready."
Moreover, Leeman said that children are going back to school with new stresses, more anxiety and depression, having witnessed domestic violence or enduring child abuse during the many hours at home.  
“No one has said what to do about it,” he said.
According to Leeman, the United States and the United Kingdom are seeing a spike in drop outs as a result of the pandemic. He said that he expects Israel will see a 30% to 35% increase in students dropping out in the coming months.
But there are solutions.
Stauber has spent the last several months working alongside a team of experts at the Israel Democracy Institute to come up with an outline for educational success post-pandemic. The research will be unveiled in full later this month at the Eli Hurvitz Conference on Economy and Society.
Stauber said that when the study was launched “we did not think that the need for a systematic model for implementing reforms and changes in public systems with an emphasis on the Education Ministry would come so urgently” as it did with the outbreak of coronavirus.
The final model involves four principles: Setting goals, creating tools for establishing policy, implementation and evaluation.
Stauber said that if she worked with the Education Ministry today, she would set a clear goal for how many days per week students should be in school and then work to reach it. She said educational policies during the coronavirus have not been optimal.
“Change requires pedagogical observation that differentiates and decentralizes powers according to the different cities,” Stauber said, “all in collaboration with a variety of experts and people who work in the field.”
She added that success should be defined in advance.
“Now is the time for creating a long-term plan, to stop working minute-to-minute,” she stressed. We must come up with flexible, long-term goals … and be careful to listen to the experts in the field. We need to give the system the resources it needs to succeed, to close these gaps.”
There are also actions that parents can take to help support their children.
When Fox saw that Lia was struggling, she signed her up for “Winner’s Code Junior,” which describes itself as a “proven, quick, simple and easy practical success method that has been studied by students all around Israel.”
With the start of the coronavirus crisis, the program - which used to offer live courses and mentoring in dozens of schools and had trained more than 22,000 students last year alone - went online. It is now an interactive digital platform that helps give children a quick and simple method to implement for practical success in life.
The program includes courses that can be taken at the children's convenience, such as how to create personal leadership, how to create desired outcomes, and how to focus on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.
“The program works quickly and easily,” explained Michal Solomonovich, who helped found the program for children. “Kids want now, now, now - to get tools that immediately impact their daily lives.”
She said that young kids that are trained to set goals and that learn how to set boundaries are better able to get through this challenging situation.
“Instead of fighting with them on screen time, we try to give them content that is valuable, where they can learn for success,” Solomonovich said, noting that the program is easy and low cost.
Fox agreed. She said Lia learned how to maximize her potential and stay focused during the crisis. It also taught her self-confidence.
“When we are in this holding period and I am watching so many of my daughter’s friends struggling, she knows what she wants and she realizes she can still accomplish things - even during corona,” Fox said.
“I believe that if we do what we need to do now,” Stauber concluded, “we can still save this generation.”