About half the students in first grade are Arabs or ultra-Orthodox. This figure heralds a profound change in Israel's social make up and presents the state with a great challenge - integrating the two groups into the job market to ensure long-term economic growth.

The Arabs' and Haredim's part in the work force is smaller today than their representation in society, which is on the rise. If this trend continues, the Israelis who work, pay taxes and support society's dependent groups will have to bear an increasingly heavier burden.

The ultra-Orthodox have privileges, such as exemption from military service and allowances for children and yeshiva students, which they obtained via their political power.

Their schools refuse to teach core studies, which would equip their students with basic mathematics and English skills. Without the core studies, Haredi graduates have difficulty finding work in the modern labor force and contributing their share to the general population's economic growth and welfare.

To ensure a fairer distribution of the social and economic burden, the state should revoke the ultra-Orthodox community's privileges and compel their education systems to teach core studies. But when the secular majority and its representatives in the Knesset and cabinet recoil from confronting the Haredi community, prefering instead to buy its political support, other channels are needed to integrate the Haredim into the work force.

In these circumstances, the increase in the number of Haredi students enrolled in ultra-Orthodox higher education programs is to be commended. Ofri Ilani reported in Haaretz Sunday that 2,000 students will study in Haredi colleges this year, four times more than in 2005.

In addition, there are projects to integrate Haredi students into the Air Force's technical division, after they make up their deficiency in mathematics and sciences.

The integration programs were created in cooperation with social entrepreneurs, government funds and young Haredim hungry for knowledge. The number of participants is still far from fulfilling the economy's future needs, though, and the Haredi academic programs are still tailored more to the ultra-Orthodox community's needs than to bolstering exportable industries.

But these programs' expansion reflects a positive development that will facilitate Haredi youngsters' entrance into the work force, without causing a political clash that could end with failure.