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The Education Ministry announced yesterday that it will reconsider its plan to move large portions of its adult education department, including Hebrew-language studies for adults, to the Pensioner Affairs Ministry, due to widespread opposition to the move.

"The future of the Pensioner Affairs Ministry is unclear, and without the backing of the Education Ministry, we would be orphans," an adult education official said yesterday. "The road from that point to ceasing our activities is a short one."

According to Education Ministry sources, senior ministry officials want to give the Pensioner Affairs Ministry responsibility for ulpans (intensive Hebrew-language courses for adults), high school equivalency programs and parenting classes.

In January, the ministry announced plans to move Hebrew-language classes, which employ some 800 teachers, to the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, but backtracked due to opposition from that ministry. "This is a 'bargain-basement' sale of the adult education department," a ministry official charged. "After the plan to move the ulpans to the Absorption Ministry failed, [Education Minister] Yuli Tamir wants to get rid of us at almost any price."

Education Ministry Director General Shlomit Amichai said the need to move the department stemmed from the budget cuts of previous years.

Adult education department staff also charged that despite the uncertainty about their future, Tamir and Amichai have not met with them. Amichai said a meeting with the adult education department is scheduled for next month.

During a debate in the Knesset yesterday, MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz) said that transferring the adult education department constitutes "bankruptcy by the Education Ministry."

MK Colette Avital (Labor) added: "We need successful immigration and absorption, and knowledge of the Hebrew language is the key. It is inconceivable that the Education Ministry should divest itself of responsibility for ulpans."

In a joint statement, the Knesset Education Committee and the Immigrant Absorption Committee said: "We will not allow the ulpans to be transferred to another ministry and their funding cut. If the Education Ministry's response is not sufficient, the committees will work to [enact] speedy legislation to ensure this."

In response to the criticism, Amichai pledged that the Education Ministry would reconsider the decision and consult with the Prime Minister's Office to see how the ulpans could remain in the ministry.