An Education Ministry decision to fund gender separation in state-run religious
elementary schools has generated anger from moderate groups seeking to prevent a
trend of increasing stringency within the national-religious school
Until now, parents of children at such schools could request that
classes be gender- separate, but needed to pay at least some of the cost for
such a move.
It is estimated that separating boys and girls in grade six
will cost the Education Ministry NIS 10 million for the coming school
Proponents of the move say it will prevent more strictly religious
parents from leaving the state system and opening independent
However, those opposing the move say it could well lead parents
to move their children out of the religious school system altogether.
coming years, state funding will also be available for gender separation in
grades four and five.
At present, and under the new system as well,
grades one to three are coed, with an option for separation if two-thirds of
parents request it.
Grades four to six are separate unless two-thirds of
parents request that they be mixed.
It is the more religiously
conservative stream of the national-religious community, known as the hardal
(haredi-national-religious) sector, that is advancing increasing gender
separation for elementary schools.
The Education Ministry said in
response that it was simply creating a more organized framework for a phenomenon
that was already widespread.
According to ministry statistics, there are
200 state-religious elementary schools with complete gender separation, and 50
with partial separation.
Another 150 are coed.
Va’avoda, a mainstream national-religious organization that has been fighting
gender-separation for several years, heavily criticized the decision, saying it
would not prevent the establishment of independent religious schools.
the majority of cases that we deal with, the establishment of an independent
school happens after the local state-religious school has been
gender-separated,” the organization said in a statement to the
Parents who transfer children to more religious schools do so not
because of mixed classes, but due to the type of pupils their children are
mixing with, NTA director Shmuel Shetah argued.
He noted that just 10
years ago, the majority of state-run religious schools were coed.
organization also said that funding gender-separate schools in this way was
discriminatory against non-separated schools, since separate classes have fewer
students and therefore require more teachers.
NTA said further that the
funding imbalance would create an incentive for parents to choose gender
separation over mixed classes.
“The funding is not fair, and not only
will it not halt the trend of radicalization and segregation, it will strengthen
it even further,” said the group. “The desire to compromise with the
haredi national- religious [sector], which is a minority, will lead a much larger
community to flee the [state] religious education framework, and [lead to a]
flow of pupils to secular education.”
However, the Education Ministry
rejected these claims, saying that the new framework was “making an already
existing reality more orderly.”
It also argued that contrary to the
criticism, funding gender separation would prevent the flow of students to
private schools and the establishment of new ones.
The ministry claimed
that the move would prevent increasing radicalization, since although classes
would be separate, recess time, ceremonies and events would still be coed, and
there would be no separation in grades one through three.
In addition, it
noted that its new steps would formalize what was currently a haphazard
situation and would also ease the burden of payments on parents interested in
such a system.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On, meanwhile, condemned the
state support for gender separation in the strongest terms.
“In a new
development from the workshop of new politics and liberalism of Yesh Atid, all
citizens of Israel will now pay out of their pockets toward the exclusion of
nine-year-old girls; for education [toward] the values of fear of women and
their exclusion from all environs in which men or boys are to be found; and
[toward] the creeping religious radicalization of the education system and
Israeli society,” she said.
“There is no reason we should pay for this
decision to teach religious boys that instead of respecting women, it is
preferable to simply ignore their existence,” she said.