With great ceremony, Limor Livnat presented the planned core curriculum eight months ago. The plan defined the minimum educational requirements for schools funded by taxpayers.
The education minister did not do it out her own desire. She responded to continuing public pressure from educators, economists and politicians. In particular, she had to respond to a petition to the High Court of Justice that Yosef Paritzky submitted four years ago against continued budgeting of ultra-Orthodox schools, which do not teach general subjects. The demand that these schools teach mathematics and English does not come from a desire to hurt the educational institutions belonging to the Shas or Agudat Yisrael parties, but rather from the clear evidence that links the "tool box" of skills with which a student receives to the chances of finding a job and economic success.
Plenty of studies have proved the relationship between education, employment and income. In a modern, open economy such as Israel, as the number of years of schooling increases, the chances of finding work and earning more income also rises.
In macroeconomic terms, the greater the level of education, the better the economy is able to implement technologies that help the entire economy to grow. On the other side of the coin, the demand for blue-collar workers without education or skills drops in a modern economy. In Israel, the situation is even more extreme due to Ora Namir's historic mistake in the 1990s of opening the country to hundreds of thousands of foreign workers. These foreigners took the place of unskilled Israelis.
The problem with ultra-Orthodox education is that its graduates receive an empty "tool box" when it comes to skills needed for employment in a modern economy. They don't learn English, Hebrew, math, nature or science - and without any of this knowledge, a student has no chance of finding work that provides an honorable wage.
But the leaders and rabbis of the ultra-Orthodox world actually are pleased with the present situation, where 80 percent of men in that community do not work. They remain dependent upon the community's leadership, who milk the government for a few small benefits and a lot of welfare payments. That is why they recently issued a far-reaching order refusing to participate in Livnat's core curriculum and not committing themselves to Education Ministry supervision of general studies.
In a normal country, the education minister would simply announce: "No core curriculum, no money." This is plain, understandable and correct language, and the goal is commendable. The purpose is to raise the ultra-Orthodox population from the depths of poverty to a life of work and prosperity without harming, in any way, their study of Talmud and Jewish law. Instead, the Education Ministry continues to hand over their budgets as if nothing has happened.
The National Insurance Institute recently published its report on poverty in 2002. The document showed that one out every five Israelis, 1.32 million people, is poor. The figures for 2003 are even worse. The numbers in the upcoming years will be even more serious, and Livnat can give herself credit for much of this accomplishment.
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