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Archive for January, 2010

Jan 30 2010

Can uniforms improve Israel’s schools?

Can a plain t-shirt be the answer to the problems of the Israeli education system? Education Minister Gideon Saar thinks so. He has just reintroduced mandatory school uniform and announced that the nation’s 1.5 million pupils must stand when a teacher enters class.

Japanese schoolboys (photo: abucho)

Japanese schoolboys (photo: abucho)

Appearing on TV last week, Saar suggested that uniforms improve the atmosphere inside schools, by increasing equality and creating a sense of shared pride. But, he said, his ministry is considering placing closed-circuit cameras inside schools in the near future.

Until 25 years ago, all Israeli schools had uniforms, but liberal educational approaches have since favoured more and more “freedom to the pupil”. The choice of whether to make uniforms compulsory was left to each school and as a result they all but disappeared. It has become very difficult for schools to punish children by sending them home or expelling them from a class. It is more common these days that parents call teachers to complain over perceived inadequacies in the curriculum or the treatment of the children.

When it comes to higher education, especially in technology related areas, Israelis tend to do especially well. In their recently published bestseller Start-Up Nation, Dan Senor and Saul Singer mention that the number of patents registered by Israelis between 1980 and 2000 was 7,652 (77 for Egyptians and 20 for Syrians).
But when you look at elementary school, the situation is not so good. Comparative international exams point to deteriorating performance of Israeli children, and the last PISA results, conducted by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), have showed that Israel ranks 39th out of 57 countries.

Saar says that in order to change course, you need to have “a climate of learning” in schools, and that an effective educational system can be achieved only if you put boundaries in place and strengthen teachers’ authority. His critics counter that this is merely cosmetics and that he should start by increasing teachers’ salaries in order to attract the best possible personnel.

Etti Wolf, who’s been running an elementary school in northern Israel for the last 20 years, says that reintroducing uniform is an important and useful tool. Children in her school already wear uniforms, and this, she says, helps in creating the right atmosphere. “Ten-year-old boys and girls come to school with the most fashionable clothes you can find,” she says, “and that’s part of the environment – that everything is permitted. In my school I am very strict: if someone comes without uniform, their parents must come and bring it to school.”
Two years ago, one of the teachers in her school suggested that the staff should wear a sort of uniform too. The point was to set an example. Trousers or skirts could be any type but shirts had to be either black or white. The regime lasted only a year, she says. The reason? The teachers rebelled.

(published originally in Monocle on January 30th 2010)

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Jan 2 2010

Justice Beinisch: Stop calling Israel “Apartheid”

In a landmark statement, the President of the Supreme Court of Israel, Dorit Beinisch, has rejected unequivocally any comparison between Israel’s policies and the Apartheid regime of South Africa. Such a comparison is “improper… extreme and radical… [and] there is no basis of raising it at all”.

Justice Dorit Beinisch

Justice Dorit Beinisch

Beinisch made this official statement in her ruling this week against the Israeli Army’s decision to close a road for Palestinian vehicles, for security reasons. The Israeli Supreme Court, which enjoys a high reputation among its peers in the democratic world, has ruled many times against the army and other state organs. But this seems to be the first time Beinisch adds her voice to the “Apartheid debate” and in such a clear way.

Closing roads for Palestinian vehicles in the West Bank is one of the main issues raised by those who call Israel an “Apartheid state”. For them, such an act is segregation, and segregation means Apartheid.

In her ruling, Beinisch denounced categorically the comparison between the former South African regime and the State of Israel. She reminded the petitioners in the case that Palestinian terrorists attacked vehicles driving the relevant road numerous times, and that many civilians have lost their lives in that way. In any case, she said, the army’s decision was motivated by security concerns and not by racial superiority.

A synopsis of the ruling is available in English but the full ruling is available for now only in Hebrew. Here is my translation of the paragraph Beinisch wrote about Apartheid:

“Even if we take into account that an all-out separation between populations using the roads is an extreme and unwanted outcome, we should be careful and restrained when using definitions that refer to security measures – adopted in order to protect persons travelling on the roads – as segregation, based on improper reasons of race and ethnicity.

“The comparison made by the petitioners between the use of different roads because of security reasons, and the Apartheid policy of South Africa, is improper.

“The Apartheid policy is a very grave crime. It contradicts the basic principles of the Israeli law, as well as the international human rights law and the international criminal law. It is a policy of racial segregation and discrimination, consisting of a range of discriminatory practices, in order to create supremacy of one race and to subjugate other races.

The stark contrast between the security measures taken by the State of Israel as protection from terror attacks, and the unacceptable practices of the Apartheid policy, demands avoiding any comparison or use of this harsh expression (underlining is mine, A.S.).

“Not every distinction between people, in all circumstances, is necessarily an improper discrimination, and not every improper discrimination is Apartheid. The use of the word Apartheid lessens the gravity of this crime, which the entire international community fought against and which we all condemn.

“Therefore, the comparison made by the petitioners between preventing the traffic of Palestinian inhabitants along road 443 and the crime of Apartheid was so extreme and radical that there was no basis for raising it at all”.