Ethiopian children - Tal Cohen - Sept. 30, 2010
Ethiopian-Israeli children in school. Photo by Tal Cohen
Text size

A program to identify gifted children in the Ethiopian community has yet to be launched despite Education Ministry pledges, and will probably not begin during the current school year, several officials said.

"Because of bureaucracy and conduct that's hard to explain, a whole grade level of immigrant children has lost a year, and no one is in a hurry to fix things," said Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein, who heads the institute that was to have identified the gifted Ethiopian students.

The ministry's plan to have Feuerstein's institute, ICELP - the International Center for the Enhancement of Learning Potential, test Ethiopian children to identify gifted students was reported three months ago. The decision itself was made six months ago, and represented the first time the ministry had conceded that the usual tests for this purpose were language-dependent and culturally biased.

ICELP was to test some 300 second and third graders in four communities and then administer a more in-depth test to about 120 of them. The goal was to identify a few dozen gifted children, who would then attend special workshops and enrichment classes separate from the regular gifted program.

The problem is that the ministry's cooperation with ICELP requires special authorization, which has not yet come through. But the need for this authorization was known six months ago. "On one hand, people at the Education Ministry are enthusiastic about the program, but on the other hand, it's completely stuck," Feuerstein said. "Even if we somehow manage to administer the tests this year, the children will only start getting support next year."

ICELP has minutes of a meeting held with senior Education Ministry officials in June. The minutes record a decision that "testing of children of Ethiopian origin in third grade will take place at the beginning of September. From them, a group will be selected that will undergo our testing. Based on the results, students will be identified for the project and will study one day a week" in the gifted program.

According to Anat Cagan, director of ICELP's enrichment program, "testing was to have been carried out in September because it was agreed that the program would start right after the holidays, as with other gifted children. When we pressed and called to see what was happening, they promised they would handle it and let us know. Apparently the reason is a combination of bureaucracy and the fact that nobody is in a hurry to move the program forward."

Roni Akala of FIDEL, the Association for Education and Social Integration of Ethiopian Jews in Israel, said that "identifying gifted children through various tests is a very important matter. The problem is that even when the Education Ministry makes the right decision - to test the children with culturally sensitive exams - it does not implement it."

The ministry said it was "working in keeping with the law and regulations. The ministry will implement the contract with ICELP when the legal procedures for contracting with an external agency have been completed."