Separating Religious From Secular, Men From Women: This Is How Israel Trains Its School Principals

'The education system is absurd,' says a principal at a religious high school for girls in Jerusalem; 'If even principals don’t meet other sectors, who will?'

Michlalah Jerusalem College, Jerusalem, February 2, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Education Ministry trains state-run religious school principals separately from other school principals, as well as segregates by gender in two of the three state-sanctioned institutes running the training programs.

In Israel, the public education system is divided into three types: State schools, where most Jewish children study and which is overall secular, the state-run religious schools, which cater to religious Jews and the Arab education system, where approximately 20 percent of Israeli students attend.

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In the state-run religious system, children study in gender-segregated classrooms from the fourth grade, although most are segregated already from the first grade.

The separation of state-run religious school principals from administrators who work in other schools is unusual. The training programs for all other school principals are held together: School principals in regular education study with those who administer special needs schools, those who work in Arab schools study with those from state schools and those who manage high schools study with those who run elementary schools.

A 2016 State Comptroller report criticized the separation between different sectors in Israel's education system and called to stop the disjunction between the various school systems.

“The education system is absurd,” says P., a principal at a religious high school in Jerusalem. “If even principals don’t meet people in other sectors, who will?” 

He says the justification for this segregation is that the religious education stream has different content, which requires targeted training. “But that’s ridiculous,” she says. “They say they want to take us into consideration and adjust content to our needs, but in practice they are restricting our world.” 

R., a school principal at a state-run religious school who was recently sent to a principal-training program said: "I think I have a lot to learn from the state education. Every time I hear about innovative schools, I find that it's not a religious school so why do I need to only study with religious people? At the same time, seculars could learn from us as well, so why the separation?"

“I think this separation is unnecessary,” says Ran Erez, a school principal at a mixed religious-secular school in Jerusalem. “Education is education. A religious teacher knows how his system works and he can definitely study alongside secular teachers. It wouldn’t hurt secular teachers to get to know teachers from the religious stream either.”

According to Erez, studying alongside principals who teach in other types of schools has led to interesting collaborations: "Meeting Arab educators has led to cooperation, and it's unfortunate the same type of thing can't happen with religious school principals. The separation leads to limited exposure of school principals to Israeli society."

The Education Ministry said in response: "Given the differences between the ways of life and the educational content in the state education and state-run religious education, the religious colleges have modified the professional training to include religious training... Accordingly, the training includes teaching the school principal how to address daily life for people in this type of education. When a religious school principal requests to study at a state school facility, the request is checked in accordance with the circumstances."