Most Ulpan Grads Over 30 Unable to Read, Write Hebrew Fluently

Ministry sets up new interactive TV channel, launched with aim of helping new immigrants learn Hebrew.

Sixty percent of immigrants to Israel over the age of 30 who graduate from Hebrew ulpan instructional courses are unable to read write and speak Hebrew fluently, according to studies presented Sunday to the Knesset's Immigration and Absorption Committee.

According to the findings, immigrants' language problems may have consequences such as unemployment and isolation, which can preclude their successful integration.

Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim has responded to the findings by setting up an inter-departmental committee to deal with the issue.

The ministry has also set up a new interactive television channel, launched with the aim of helping new immigrants learn Hebrew.

Immigration and Absorption Committee Chair Michael Nudelman described the findings as a "catastrophe for the state." MK Marina Solodkin blamed the education ministry for not dealing with the matter with the appropriate urgency.

"Many immigrants ask me whether the state is indifferent as to whether we speak Hebrew or not. It is the responsibility of the adult education department to improve the standard of teaching at the Hebrew schools."

State provides less than half of needed lessons Meir Peretz, director of the adult education division of the Education Ministry, pointed out that the state only provides 500 hours of Hebrew lessons for each immigrant, despite the fact that international studies have shown that an average of 1,320 hours of tuition is required to learn a foreign language.

"Eighty percent of teachers in the Hebrew schools are academics while 20 percent are experienced teachers. We need to examine the linguistic integration of the immigrants alongside their general integration" argued Peretz.

Riva Aviad, director of the language acquisition division of the Education Ministry, commented that "the decision to allocate 500 hours [of tuition per immigrant] was taken for administrative rather than pedagogic reasons. This ruling means that Israel's immigrant community is insufficiently provided for. What is missing for immigrant students who graduate from Hebrew school is the support stage." Aviad cited news in easy Hebrew as one example.

The Immigration and Absorption Ministry has stated that Boim set up the inter-departmental committee with the Education Ministry "to bring about meaningful change in Hebrew language instruction at ulpanim."

The ministry will also be providing technical staff for the new TV station. The station, which will available on cable and satellite TV, will broadcast news in easy Hebrew, and provide word puzzles to ease immigrants into the Hebrew language.

Viewers of the channel will be able get assistance in five languages, including Russian and Amharic, by using their remote control.

The channel's set-up costs will be covered by the broadcasters, in the hope that they will attract new subscribers to their networks.