22 August 2008 Senior Education Ministry official at ORT House, London Radical changes to Israels education system were explained by the Senior Deputy Director General of the Education Ministry, Dr Itzhik Tomer, during a question and answer session at ORT House, London. Dr Tomer, who was visiting World ORTs administrative centre for high level discussions on the strategy of its collaboration with his Ministry, fielded questions from World ORT staff and representatives of other organisations based at ORT House, including British Friends of Hebrew University and Weizmann UK. He said that the funding structure of Israels education system was being overhauled in a move that is aimed at closing the gap in standards and outcomes between the wealthier centre of the country and the poorer peripheral areas. At the moment, funding is allocated per student, regardless of where they live, Mr Tomer said. Our priority would be schools in outlying areas and also poorer students. This will be a radical change and the practical ramification would be that the Tel Avi conurbation will receive less money and more money will go to the periphery. In addition, the central government will relax its grip on how the money is spent giving local authorities the responsibility for such decisions. All those attending the forum worked for organisations which support education in Israel. They saw themselves, said World ORT Director General Robert Singer, as Mr Tomers partners. They were, therefore, interested to hear about New Horizons, the Israeli governments bid in cooperation with trade unions to professionalise teaching in the Jewish State. New Horizons rofek hadash in Hebrew will see a huge increase in teachers salaries over the next five years: a university graduate will see their starting salary more than double to NIS 6,000. The second major change will be the hours worked by teachers. We are changing the way schools operate, changing the whole educational culture in Israel, Dr Tomer said. Until now, teachers worked a 30-hour week. No time was allotted for tutoring, lesson preparation or marking, which was all done in staffs own time at home. New Horizons has raised the working week to 36 hours, of which 26 hours will be in the classroom, five hours tutoring small groups of talented students and the rest devoted to lesson preparation and marking. The feedback received so far from students, teachers and parents has been extraordinary, Mr Tomer said. However, the digital gap between students from poor backgrounds and those in wealthier families remained a major challenge ahead, Mr Tomer said. Students in wealthier communities are happier in the use of technology than children from poorer families, he said. World ORTs supplying of Interactive White Board technology to schools in outlying areas and the national campaign to provide a laptop to each teacher, in which World ORT is also involved, are helping to meet this challenge. Young people have the knowledge to sit at a computer and surf the Internet but now were trying to get them to use it for pedagogical ends, not just to have fun. With so much still to do and, despite Israels economic boom, a budget that is stretched to meet requirements, the support of non-governmental organisations is vital. The work of organisations like World ORT is so important for me personally; and for the Ministry of Education to have World ORT as our major partner help out in any way it can to make education in Israel the best it can be, Dr Tomer said.