Rejoicing at a 60 per cent pay increase
Senior sixth-formers preparing for the Bagrut matriculation can also rejoice - about a reduction in their exam load. The existing Bagrut system comprises seven compulsory subjects, but the need to acquire points means pupils cram for anything up to 13. All subjects include an externally-assessed exam.
A newly-announced reform, to be implemented over 10 years, probably from next September, will limit the number of subjects to nine. At the first stage of the reform, one of these subjects will be assessed by the school, partly on the basis of project work. By the end of the 10 years, six of the nine subjects will be internally examined.
Good Bagrut results are crucial for university entrance and good jobs, both during and after army conscription.
Education minister Amnon Rubinstein wants to get more pupils through the Bagrut (about 40 per cent gain a matriculation certificate at present) and enable more than the current 30 per cent of the relevant age group to enter higher education.
As a result of his initiatives, some 6,500 junior and senior sixth-formers are studying in smaller than average classes this year, with nearly double the classroom time accorded to their peers. Also, more than 1,000 pupils who failed between one and three exams last year are deferring their army service for four months to have a second attempt.
The minister himself wrote to all who left school in 1991, having failed one exam, inviting them to take a free course that would help them pass the second time. Some 500 students came forward. Next year, the programme will be expanded to include the graduates of 1992.
The ministry is looking at ways to give financial inducements to schools to weaker pupils and get them through the Bagrut.
As part of a more general equal opportunities move, the ministry is sending teams of educational experts into 37 disadvantaged areas for at least three years. The teams will work with local educators on improving the system, from kindergarten up to senior sixth form.
Another pressing priority is to reverse cuts in classroom hours, made during the 1980s, which severely squeezed subjects such as music and art, and have forced parents to pay for supplementary lessons.
The education ministry is continuing to add hours. Pupils, who start school at 8am, are now leaving at 1pm, at the earliest, rather than at noon.
Other initiatives under way include the computerisation of schools (more than 14,000 computers were installed last academic year), and the introduction of the Middle East peace process as this year's ministry of education theme in schools.
Meanwhile, efforts are continuing to close gaps between Jewish sector education and that of Arabs and Druze living within the Green Line. (In most of the occupied territories, education is now in the hands of the Palestinian Authority).
Israeli Arabs and Druze constitute around 255,000 of Israel's nearly 1. 7 million pupils, and study in separate schools for linguistic, cultural and geographical reasons.
Over the past two years, extra hours have been allocated to these schools to bring them up to par. They will now also benefit from a system that awards additional class time for weaker pupils on the basis of socioeconomic and other criteria. Of the 37 districts to beoverhauled with the help of teams of experts, seven are Arab or Druze.
Asked to comment on the year, Avraham Ben-Shabbat of the Histadrut Teachers' Union commended the government's efforts, but said more had to be done to improve pupil:teacher ratios. Classes of 35 to 40 are not uncommon.