Israel's Education Minister Gideon Saar was honored with laying the cornerstone for 12 additional classrooms in Tekoa's Jewish Unity Elementary School. The only interruption to the ceremony was provided by a raucous peacock from the nearby school menagerie.
The minister was welcomed to the mixed secular-religious community, located east of Efrat, by Gush Etzion Regional Council Head Davidi Perl, who emphasized the strong demographic growth in the Eastern Gush that necessitated the massive expansion.
He used the opportunity to ask the minister to make the area part of his program of acquainting Israel's schoolchildren with heritage sites, claiming that the Tekoa area made an excellent stopping point on the way to Hebron. Saar has restored Hebron to school trip itineraries.
Saar, in replying to Perl, informed the audience that the Education Ministry was going to do precisely that next year, while increasing the number of biblical sites that schoolchildren will visit on class trips.
Saar claimed that he was particularly happy to be at the school, which emphasizes the joint education of religiously observant, traditional and secular pupils in the same classes. Saar claims that empowering this system of education was what the country needs at the present time.
Saar used the occasion to respond to the demonstrations in Tel Aviv that resulted in the arrests of demonstrators, after they smashed into banks.
The minister asserted that Israeli democracy provided all the tools for democratic protest and anybody who tried to portray things otherwise was prevaricating. Protest, however, had to take place in a legal framework, including the need for a license to demonstrate.
No ideological values could justify violation of the law, including blocking roads and damaging property. Ideological criminality was reprehensible, irrespective of the identity of the perpetrators. The term "rule of law" was not a convenience formula to be invoked when it suited one side in the debate. Governments and their the law enforcement bodies were also bound by the rule of law.
Returning to the affairs of his ministry, Saar proclaimed that the Israeli education system was in the midst of a major revolution, noting the following highlights:
a. A renewed stress on values, something that had been neglected in recent years.
b. Stability in terms of relationships with the teachers' unions that would guarantee school years that were not interrupted by labor unrest.
c. A new organizational culture that, on the one hand, would increase state investments in the schools, but in return, expected the schools to produce results.
On national exams, he said, achievement levels had gone up - and this progress would soon be reflected in international examinations.
Saar predicted that Israel would soon resume her place as one of the leading countries in terms of educational achievement, saying that this goal was "much more within reach than some people believe".
The minister extended wishes to the students for a happy and safe summer vocation and advised them to rest up, because next year's educational demands would be much higher.