A few days before the beginning of the school year in Israel, the feeling here is that the education system has seen better times. Many teachers are quitting, especially the young and more gifted ones, and few are filling the blanks. A teacher’s salary is unattractive in Israel, to say the least, they have no respect from parents or students, and their social status is poor. In consequence, the entire system is now on the brink of collapse. In this column, I would like to relate to the role that parents can play in improving children’s education, and to the basic principles that I believe should guide a successful education system.
First, we need to realize that expecting parents to actively participate in improving the education system is unrealistic; it will not happen. Parents cannot and will not take responsibility for their children’s education. They were not taught how to do this, and they do not want the burden. Parents pay hefty sums for education in Israel, which is supposed to be free, and the Ministry of Education has the biggest budget of all government offices, except, perhaps, the defense budget, so parents rightly feel that this should suffice to finance proper education for their children.
In fact, one way to solve the problem is to indeed shut down the entire education system and establish a private one, instead, where parents’ payments will go directly and only toward their children’s education. Currently, when the government funds education, it spends the money where it wants, only some of it actually goes toward the education system, and no one is happy.
Even now, when the children purportedly get everything they need at school, parents who want their children to do well at school and continue to higher education must pay extra for extracurricular lessons, which are very expensive. This is actually one way to get the parents accustomed to privatizing the education system.
There is, of course, the justified fear that the haves will get better education than the have nots, but this is already the case, so in that sense, a private system will not be worse than the current one. If the entire system is privatized, parents will at least know what they are paying for, what they are getting in return, and they will be able to make educated decisions on their expenses.
At the same time, we do want all the children, and not only those from affluent families, to receive a good education. After all, children are the future of any country, including the State of Israel. To provide a good education for everyone, a team of highly skilled, unaffiliated professionals in education should design a system that is not related or obligated to any political system, but is committed only to the benefit of the children and to producing optimum education.
That education must incorporate far more than implanting information in children’s brains. Educating is not indoctrinating. Educating means teaching children how to be successful grownups. Being successful does not mean that people know a set of required information. Success depends first and foremost on a person’s social skills, and not a person’s level of schooling.
Acquiring social skills means learning to communicate, cooperate, share, take others’ perspectives in mind, be considerate, listen to others, and express oneself in non-threatening ways. These are all essential skills for life. In fact, they are the skills we use the most. Yet, we teach none of them at school, and for the most part, parents do not have the time, energy, or skills to teach them. As a result, children grow up to be emotionally ill-equipped adults who have to cope with relationships at home, at college, at work, with spouses and partners, yet they lack the knowhow.
If we want to teach our children well, we must build a system that teaches children to be human beings, first, and knowledgeable people, next. We must invest directly in the education system, and see to it that education means providing social skills, learning skills, and information, in that order.