NGOs Slam City Hall for Lack of East Jerusalem Classrooms

Municipality has only fulfilled half of its commitments to the Arab sector, and over 1,000 more classrooms are necessary.

Thousands of East Jerusalem schoolchildren are not officially enrolled in any educational institution, and half of all classrooms in the predominantly Arab sections of the capital do not meet minimal standards, according to a report issued Tuesday by two non-governmental organizations.

A study commissioned jointly by Ir Amim and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said the most serious problem plaguing the East Jerusalem school system is the lack of classrooms. According to the report's estimates, at least 1,000 more classrooms are needed to accommodate the student population.

classrooms - ACRI - Aug 25 2010

The groups said only 39 new classrooms have been added, despite promises by the Jerusalem municipality and the Education Ministry to provide a greater number. Over the last nine years, just 257 classrooms have been built there, approximately half the number the city and state pledged to provide in hearings before the High Court of Justice.

The inadequate number of classrooms and schools pushed many students to seek instruction at private educational institutions. According to the study, less than half (48 percent ) of the city's students are enrolled in public schools. East Jerusalem private schools are operated by churches, the UN Relief and Works Agency, and Islamist organizations known to be affiliated with Hamas.

The dearth of classrooms has exacerbated the overcrowding in schools while also forcing students to receive instruction in settings not conducive to learning, like apartments, sporting grounds and laboratories. Figures from the Jerusalem municipality's education administration cited in the report indicate that half of all classrooms in East Jerusalem's public schools (751 out of 1,389 ) meet proper standards.

The Jerusalem municipality rejected the report's criticisms. According to the municipality, there is a shortage of just 700 classrooms in East Jerusalem. In the last two years, the city has built 200 new classrooms while another 230 are in the process of being furnished, the municipality said.

"The shortage of classrooms stems primarily from the lack of available property that can be designated for the construction of educational institutions," the municipality said in a statement. "Given this set of circumstances, the municipality is providing various housing solutions by making available mobile homes ... and building new schools."

The municipality said it spends 10 times the amount of money on renting school space in East Jerusalem than it does in the western part of the city and four times the amount for transporting children to school.