The Bottom Line / Destroying Their Own Future

"There hasn't been anything like this since the days of Ben-Gurion's government," the head of Agudat Yisrael's education network told Haaretz two weeks ago, referring to the Education Ministry's attempt to intervene on the issue of discrimination in the admission of pupils to ultra-Orthodox schools. "All the governments accepted the autonomy of our institutions, including the admissions procedures. There are certain problems, but they must be discussed with the rabbis - not with the Education Ministry."

The ultra-Orthodox take the autonomy of their educational institutions as a given. There is no reason for them to think otherwise. For years the state authorities allowed them to manage their educational institutions as they pleased, including determining the curriculum and the acceptance procedures, which reeked of ethnic discrimination. The state, through the Education Ministry, has deliberately refrained from intervening in the ultra-Orthodox institutions, in the spirit of an ostensibly liberal concept of equality - that everyone has the right to educate his child as he sees fit.

It turns out equality in education is lopsided. In the name of equality the ultra-Orthodox schools demand their share of the education budget, and at a level on par with the budgets allocated to state schools. Such equality, however, is forgotten when they are required to provide a return on those budgets, to follow a long list of directives from the Education Ministry, primarily the teaching of a core curriculum determined by the ministry. No one, however, is ensuring that the ultra-Orthodox education system adjusts its curriculum to meet the state's goals in education: good citizenship in a democratic country and an education that provides students with the skills to integrate into the future job market.

The Education Ministry should have made sure its demands were being met. Instead, it has been doing just the opposite. About two weeks ago the Movement for Progressive Judaism filed a petition with the High Court of Justice. This petition is pursuant to the petition filed by the movement in 2003, demanding to know why the Education Ministry allows the ultra-Orthodox schools to receive budgets without demanding that they teach the ministry's core curriculum. In response to the 2003 petition, the ministry agreed that the law demands the core curriculum be taught in exchange for state funds. It also agreed it would be appropriate to demand this of the ultra-Orthodox schools, as well as suspend the budgets of those schools that do not teach the full curriculum. Even so, the ministry admitted it had not finalized the core curriculum and asked for a three-year extension to do so.

The three years will be up at the beginning of the 2007-08 school year. The current petition reveals that the Education Ministry essentially did nothing during that time to introduce the core curriculum into ultra-Orthodox schools. For example, the ministry has yet to develop a curriculum for high schools, so for the time being there is nothing to enforce at these schools. The situation regarding elementary schools is slightly better as there is at least a core curriculum, but it is not being enforced at all.

According to Education Ministry figures, there are currently 120 inspectors overseeing 643,000 students in the secular state schools - one inspector for every 5,300 students. This ratio is even better in the religious state schools, with one inspector for every 4,000 students. There is only one inspector per 7,000 to 14,000 students in the Arab sector. But in the ultra-Orthodox sector, there are just two inspectors charged with overseeing 204,000 students in 412 schools, including 40,000 students who are entirely unsupervised by the ministry, even though the 190 schools they attend receive 55 percent of their funding from the state.

In responding to the petition, the ministry admits it hasn't allocated sufficient resources for assimilating the core curriculum into ultra-Orthodox elementary schools; that the inspectors have no guidelines concerning the frequency of their visits and that there are no follow-up visits. Yet the ministry has not suspended the budget of a single ultra-Orthodox school. This despite the fact that at least one inspection report on the ultra-Orthodox sector revealed that 51 schools in the ultra-Orthodox education networks were not teaching the core curriculum as directed.

Education Ministry figures show that ultra-Orthodox schools are failing to meet their obligation to teach the core curriculum. The victims of this delinquency are the ultra-Orthodox children themselves, whose chances of acquiring job market skills, that will help them integrate into broader society and the job market, and their chances for equal educational opportunities, are squandered under the current material taught in the ultra-Orthodox institutions.

The citizens of Israel are also victims of this problem, as their tax money is funding an education system that does not teach democracy and is already grooming the next generation of poor families.

Thus the State of Israel is slowly destroying its own economic and democratic future.