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Unprecedented shortage of teachers in Israel

Israel is facing a major crisis that, if it does not tackle head on, will impact generations to come. This is not Iran and its pursuit of nuclear weapons or the demographic consequences from failure to advance a peaceful resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians. This crisis has to do with the education of Israeli youth and the simple fact that Israel is facing a major – some say unprecedented – shortage of teachers.

According to a recent report by the Central Bureau of Statistics, by 2026 the number of students in Israel will grow by nearly 9% to a whopping two million. This will require the state to find, train and hire an additional 16,000 new teachers in comparison to 2021.

The increase in student numbers will be felt not just in the number of teachers needed to educate youth, but also in the number of hours they will need to teach. According to the CBS report, teaching hours will go up 382,000 within the next three years – and the number of classrooms will also need to be increased by about 4,000.

Where does all of this come from? What is the government doing to create this new workforce, to train it and to build the necessary physical infrastructure that will be needed for all these students?

Sadly, the answer is not much. Just go ask any school principal who today is already encountering difficulty in hiring new teachers for the 2022-2023 school year. University graduates are refusing to work in schools, and youth – after the army – are staying away from enrolling in teaching schools. One basic reason is the low salaries teachers make – just over NIS 6,000 a month.

“Parents do not need to be worried about teachers strikes,” Yaffa Ben-David, head of the Teachers Union said this week. “They need to be worried about the school year not opening due to the shortage of teachers.”

Back in March, Ben-David warned that without a new agreement signed with the Treasury by June, it would be almost impossible to open the school year without disruption. Has a new agreement been signed? You already know the answer.

According to the union leader, the offer that the teachers have received from the Treasury has so far included a “lame” proposal to increase beginning teachers’ salaries to NIS 8,000 and to add just a few hundred shekels to the salaries of veteran educators.

The shortage has forced principals to come up with creative ways to fill teaching slots. Some principals find themselves serving as homeroom teachers while others scout out talented teachers in other schools and try to draw them away with a better offer. In other cases, they have had to hire teachers to teach subjects they are not qualified to teach. “This is going to be a catastrophe,” one principal recently explained.

Ram Cohen, the principal of Tichonet in Tel Aviv, explained last week that even if the state raises teacher salaries by NIS 2,000, it will still take years to locate, train and then hire new educators. “I do not know what will be in the future,” he wrote on Facebook. “What is certain is that the strong will survive but more and more children who do not meet their full potential will be harmed.”

While education might not seem to be an existential matter like a nuclear Iran or a Hezbollah missile onslaught, it is. Israel’s economy is dependent on the education system. It is there where Israeli children learn Jewish tradition, innovation, out-of-the-box thinking and basic arithmetic, English and history.

A shortage in teachers will also further expand the gap between the people who have in Israel and the people who don’t. Parents with money will hire tutors for their children and make up for the shortage at home. Parents without money won’t be able to afford tutors and their children will unfortunately fall behind.

The time to act is now. The Treasury needs to immediately increase salaries and condition it on the hiring of qualified teachers. Our children’s future depends on this.