Ethiopian children - Tal Cohen - Sept. 30, 2010
Ethiopian-Israeli children in school. Photo by Tal Cohen
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Significant gaps exist in achievement between students of Ethiopian origin and those of all students in the Jewish sector in standardized tests, a recent Education Ministry report revealed.

The largest and possibly most significant gap is in eighth-grade math, where students in the Jewish sector overall scored an average of 50 points out of 100 and Ethiopian-Israeli students scored 26. In other subjects, including English, Hebrew and the sciences, the gap was between 18 and 25 points.

"The education system has still not found the way to improve the scholastic achievements of this community," says Roni Akale of FIDEL, the Association for Education and Social Integration of Ethiopian Jews in Israel.

The recently completed report is based on the achievements of students who were born in Ethiopia or whose parents were born in Ethiopia, on the standardized tests administered nationally between 2007 and 2010 by the Education Ministry to children from the fifth to eighth grades. The report also states that gaps between children of Ethiopian origin and others have been noted as early as the second grade in terms of proficiency in Hebrew.

The report also notes that children of Ethiopian origin said they have had to endure racist remarks almost three times more frequently than such remarks were reported by the general population of children surveyed.

Last year, the Education Ministry said there were 35,884 children of Ethiopian origin in the school system, of whom 21,717 were born in Israel. Of the total, 53 percent were studying in state religious schools, as opposed to a national average of 17 percent of all children.

In last year's English test, eighth graders in the Jewish school system in general scored an average of 76 points in English, as opposed to 59 among children of Ethiopian origin. In Hebrew, the scores were 72 for all students opposed to 59 for Ethiopian-Israelis.

Most of children of Ethiopian origin come from poor families, and the report attempted to check the extent to which socioeconomic background explained the relatively lower achievements of the Ethiopian-Israeli children. In comparing the results of the latter children with poor children of other backgrounds, the gaps narrow slightly, but were still significant. The report concluded: "Gaps in achievement are not only the result of socioeconomic background, and there are additional factors connected to these gaps, for example, in language and culture."

In scrutinizing the school environment, the report noted that 38 percent of Ethiopian-Israeli children reported being teased about their racial origin, as opposed to 14 percent of all children.

David Maharat, director of the Steering Center for Ethiopian Immigrants in the Education System, said, "Ostensibly investment in the [Ethiopian] community by various official bodies is great. Perhaps it would be better to give the money directly to the members of the community, who would know best what to do with it to change the situation."

The Education Ministry said in response that last year a five-year program began operating in schools "to focus on advancing scholastic achievements among students of Ethiopian origin." NIS 20 million was given to the program this year, and the identical amount will be given next year. Another program to help advance the scholastic achievements of Ethiopian-Israeli students and their families has been funded at NIS 200 million, the ministry said.