Dropouts' Second Chance at Risk

Dana Amar of Kiryat Malakhi returned to high school at 26, spending six hours a day at a community center hosting the project, which is run by the Education Ministry's adult education department. Amar, who dropped out of high school in ninth grade, became interested in getting an education because she wants to be able to help her daughter, now 2, do her homework, and also to qualify for professional training courses.

"These studies are my second chance," said Amar.

But in light of the Education Ministry's decision to cut the budget of its adult education department, it is not clear whether similar classes will be offered in the coming year and if so, how many. The cuts, which threaten to cause an unprecedented level of damage to the scope and quality of several ministry programs, have sparked a protest scheduled to take place in Ramat Efal tomorrow.

Many Education Ministry departments will suffer cutbacks in the wake of the ministry's decision to provide some NIS 800 million over six years to fund elementary school reforms, but the adult education department - which is responsible for ulpan (intensive Hebrew) programs for immigrants and guidance for parents, along with the project to help adults like Amar finish high school - is being hit particularly hard.

The adult education department had a NIS 161 million budget in 2005, a record high that has since dropped to NIS 86 million. The budget for the section responsible for remedial high school courses for adults was slashed by more than 30 percent.

The Education Ministry said it had little choice but to focus its resources on children.

"In the wake of heavy cuts imposed on the ministry in the last few years, the ministry has been forced to carry out broad cuts every year, while establishing priorities," the ministry said in a statement. "The heart of the ministry's activities is aimed at kindergartens and schools, and as a result - unfortunately - a deeper cut is needed in the adult education department than in other departments."

The director general of the ministry, Shlomit Amihai, wants to examine the possibility of having other departments carry out some of the tasks of the adult education department, the ministry said.

The adult education department operates in 145 areas of the country, about a third of them Arab communities, and serves some 17,000 people. It teaches basic literacy and offers classes that can lead to a high school degree.

Some 500 people study at Merkaz Hahaskala in Kiryat Malakhi. Amar's 15-person class is learning about the geography of the Maghreb states, their atlases open and worksheets at the ready. Some of the students are in their 20s, like Amar, but the classes also include students older than 50 who seem by now to have forgotten the way a classroom runs.

"Never in my life did I get grades like the ones I'm getting now," said Gila Galam, 35, from the Yavneh area. She dropped out of school in 10th grade and worked at a factory until it closed down. Galam then found herself without a job, and lacking the education that plays an important role in getting one. She now plans to take a course in bookkeeping.

In addition to teaching former dropouts who have become inspired to return to the classroom, Merkaz Hahaskala also teaches Ethiopian immigrants in a class currently focusing on the rights and responsibilitites of Israeli citizens.

An adult Ethiopian student, Alam, said learning Hebrew, as he does at the center, is the most important skill for an immigrant. "Otherwise our problems will continue all our lives," he said. "Until we die."