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Aug 31, 2008

invited to Bibi press conference on education (video)

Benjamin Netanyahu contacted Stephen from Webads about inviting some bloggers to cover a press conference he would be hosting today. The topic would be the unveiling of his plan on redoing the education system in Israel.

Stephen invited a number of bloggers to cover the event, and I was one of them. In addition to me, present (in no particular order) were Carl from Israel Matzav, RivkA from Coffee and Chemo, Lurker who comments and sometimes guests posts by The Muqata, and Mother in Israel. I also heard that some Hebrew bloggers were there, and there were people from the traditional press. This leaves Bibi alone on top of the technical revolution as this is the first time that any politician in Israel has invited bloggers to cover a press conference. He is clearly taking advantage of the very powerful medium of blogs, that allow direct contact with the average person, in ways that others are not.

The press conference took place in "Metzudat Zev" a.k.a. Beit Jabotinsky. This is the building containing the Likud headquarters and is named after the famed Zionist Revisionist leader Zev Jabotinsky.

Bibi first walked in and walked around the room greeting those of us in attendance. I thought that was a good touch - very personal. He came over and said hello. He saw the computers and said, "Atem haBloggerim? Yesh lachem et kol ha'tziyud!" - "You guys are the bloggers? You've got all your equipment [ready]!"

I felt a little funny. I was the only one not to bring a computer. It seemed funny to be there as a rep of those in the forefront of technology, while I am writing with the old-fashioned pen and paper. But then again, I don't type so fast anyway and probably would not have been able to keep up! Also, I chose to walk most of the way, as it was not too far from work, so I did not want to shlep a laptop, and I figured they probably would not have wireless internet available anyway. So I brought a notebook, pen and my camera. Carl proved me wrong, and got a decent wi-fi connection, and he was even able to post an initial post right from the press conference!

So Bibi gets up to the podium and begins his address.

He describes how he has spent the last year and a half working on getting familiar and up to date with the education system and learning about it and meeting with professionals, in Israel and abroad, about formulating a plan to fix it. Israel's education system has largely been a failure in the past 15 years. It has been in a constant state of decline. Our students come in among the lowest of countries in the various exams and rating systems. So ti needs an overhaul.

Mr. Netanyahu presented his plan to overhaul the system. He explained the importance of the education system. It is the real promise of equality among people of differing sectors. It breaks the barriers. And it is what will allow our children to succeed.

He spoke of his plan to create a sort of "cabinet" of education, just like the government has one to deal with defense. The education system is in serious need of direct intervention and he himself will head the education cabinet.

Throughout the speech he made comparisons with what needs to be done with the educations system and what he successfully accomplished with the finance system when he took it over as our financial system wa son the brink of collapse. he successfully turned it around, and we are now considered among the most successful financial systems in the world, and many other countries take example from us. He plans to do the same for our education system and bring our kids back from being in the bottom teir internationally, to being among the top ten percent in the world. He says his plan is for ten years, but hopes to accomplish it much quicker, just as he did with the financial systems. He turned that around completely in four years, but his goal is ten years.

Bibi's first point was the quality fo the teachers. While the teacher is not everything, it is a very important aspect of influence on the children and their education. he wants to attract better teachers, he wants to pay them more. He wants to create an environment where the best people want to go into education. Just like the air force has demand because its name is one of greatness, just like doctors have a difficult time getting into medical school because of the reputation of excellence (even though they do nto necessarily make so much money and at least the first ten years work very hard for very little), he wants to do the same for education. Create a reputation where it is considered where the elite go.

Bibi showed some statistics in a presentation in which he shows how from 1992 the budget for education was increased massively by Yitzchak Rabin and subsequently increased by himself and other PMs that followed, and yet between 1992 and 2002 the level of education and the students kept falling. In 1995 the percentage of successful reading exams by the IDF was at 65%, and over time it went down to a 32% success rate in 2002.

"HaTovim La'Horaah" - "the best [teachers] for education" is what he calls this part of the plan.

He proceeded to delineate the 5 points to his plan:
  1. Ha'Tovim La'Horaah, as described briefly above.
  2. Let the administrators administer. We need to train administrators, we need to strengthen their positions (which includes giving them resonsibility over parts of their budgets, at the same time demanding of them results), and giving them increased responsibility.
  3. Concentrating on the core curriculum
  4. Accelerated Assitance to the Weaker students: not letting the students fall behind. It is more difficult to rehabilitate a failed student, than it is to help him succeed prior to failure. He will put in place systems that allow the teachers to stay in control and aware fo what is happening with the students and their progress, and they will be able to intervene right away and help them avoid failure. Each student will be enabled to succeed toward his personal level of excellence
  5. Bringing back Values to education: We have abandoned civics and democracy in our education. Bibi wants to bring that back. In addition, we will bring back "Tziyonut U'Metzuyanut" - Zionism and excellency". Values and discipline will be returned to the classroom.
On the last point, Netanyahu expanded a considerable amount on. He described how we have put the Nakba (the Arab description of our vistories - the word means"The Disaster") into our schools and taken out Zionism and Jabotinsky. Taking out Jabotinsky is like taking out Ben Gurion. How can you teach Zionism and not teach about Jabotinsky? We will take out the Nakba and put back Jabotinsky and Ben Gurion!

Alot of people can discuss what to do, but to succeed in actually making change, one needs to be a Prime Minister with a clear vision, political strength, and courage.

Bibi streesed that while budget cuts have been difficult, and taking budgets away from education, from any government ministry, is always difficult, but that is less important. the budget itself is not so important. It is how you use the budget. We have seen increased budgets thrown at education with deteriorating results. We need to use the budgets better by defining the goals.

After Mr. Netanyahu presented his plan, he then took some questions..
RivkA asked about cheating in the classroom and how he would bring back Tziyonut to the classroom.
Bibi respondedthat he would create a framework for discipline and success. We will give the students the tools for success and for the development of his opportunities. He spoke about values and patrotism. he compared it to the United States that he said is one of the most patriotic countries in the world.
I am not sure what patriotism has to do with cheating. If he thinks students in te US do not cheat just because they swear allegiance in the morning, I think he is fooling himself.

He continued on about teaching Zionism and Moreshet Yisrael by teaching the facts. he has no plans to corrupt anything or whitewash anything. Simply teach the facts of history. Take out the Nakba and bring back the facts.

Somebody else asked about whether he would implement the necessity to study core issues among the Haredi education system.
Bibi responded with three points:
  1. Sometimes by trying to implement a plan 100% of the way, you end up with 0%. Instead of fighting with the Haredim about it, and therefgore possibly not being able to implement it at all, let's start with everyone else. Let's start with 80% of the poulation.
  2. There is already change by the Haredim and they will continue to want more education, as they enter the workforce mroe and more.
  3. It will require discussion, agreement and slowly over time it will be done.
MOI asked about teachers opposition to reform.
Bibi responded that change does not mean everything. What is good will be kept, and what is bad will be changed. he is in touch with the various teachers unions and they asked the same question. Change is not for the sake of change, but for improvement.

Bibi again stressed the importance of "Tziyonut and Metzuyanut" as the basic theme of his plan.

Overall, I thought the conference showed the seriousness with which Bibi Netanyahu is approaching the crisis in the educational system and the way he expects to tackle it the way he tackled the problems with the economy.

Bibi speaking. You can see Menachem Begin peeking out over Bibi's shoulder...

Here are some clips from the conference:


  1. I think that is Begin behind him.

  2. woops. sorry you are right. Jabotinsky was the poster on the other side...

  3. no freebies unless you count burekas as freebies

  4. wow! rafi's big time. well done!

  5. Nice write up. See you really didn't need that computer. Interesting plan from Bibi. I think it is one of the most important issues. It will be interesting to see how things proceed.

  6. ehav - it really is. Aside from defense which is always the top issue, education really needs a boost.

  7. It is encouraging that Bibi see education as worthy of a plan. That in itself is good. It remains to be seen exactly how this works out in practical terms.
    Of course the budget gets bigger and bigger, there are more kids who need to go to school and costs of everything don't go down. So that really doesn't say much.
    Bibi's 'success' with the economy came at the expense of some very important principles - like national insurance child support. So the big picture may look hunky dory but it also brings with it the hidden (or maybe not so hidden?) message of limiting family size.
    Of course, that might lead to higher quality education for those who do make it into the world.
    I'm just saying....

  8. this talk sounds wonderful, but as usual it's just talk with no realistic plan. Has Bibi ever walked into a classroom since his days? (I think a lot of his schooling was in the US) Does he know what an Israeli High School looks like. By the way civics is part of the cur. it's called ezrachut and to get a teudat bagut you have to pass the test. The test happens to be one of the harder bagruyot as you actually have to think to pass. (I teach ezrachut) which is the point I am getting at. Israelis don't learn to think!!! They learn to parrot information! It takes me half a year to get the kids to actually think for themselves, anaylize answer questions which they have never seen. That is the real problem of Israeli education.

  9. well that remains to be seen. Bibi is the only one who successfully pushed through economic reform and actually turned around the economy from one that was failing to one that is functioning well overall. If anybody can throw himself into a project like this and actually effect change, it is Bibi.

    Don't get me wrong, Bibi is far from perfect. But he has the ability to effect change on these issues...


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