I have long been an advocate of getting the Charedi world in Israel to establish some sort of decent secular studies curriculum into their elementary schools and high schools. Much like most of the Charedi world in America does. 

I do not do this with ill intent. I do it because I care about the welfare of my people. I felt – and still feel – that this is the best way to insure that all Charedim will have an opportunity to get decent jobs. If they do not prepare for that early in their educational lives, too many of them will be unable to catch up… and will end up with low paying menial jobs and unable to support their families. That’s why - for example - I supported government enforcement of the requirement to have a core curriculum to fund their schools. 

Claiming that this was undue interference in their right to determine their own curriculum (to the ridiculous point of comparing it to Shmad - forced apostasy!) these efforts were vigorously opposed by the Charedi rabbinic establishment. Which has been successful. As a result their schools continue to receive government funding while ignoring those requirements. As they always have. 

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The Charedi world touted this as a stunning victory for Torah. Whose study they believe should not be diluted by any other type of study. Even if it means their young men will not be prepared for the workplace.



What about supporting their families? They will answer that there is time for them to get training after they finish their full time Torah study in a Kollel. Their defenders have pointed to successful training programs geared to Charedi students to help them get better jobs… or enter universities. From the Jerusalem Post

According to statistics from the Council for Higher Education, there will be approximately 1,000 new haredi students beginning a variety of courses this year at a broad array of institutions, including established haredi colleges and prestigious universities such as the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Bar-Ilan University. 

The number of haredi men and women in higher education has been increasingly rapidly, albeit from a tiny starting point, over the past five years. Whereas in 2011, there were just 5,500 haredim in higher education, that number has more than doubled to this year’s figure of 13,000, an increase of 136%. 

That should elicit a big ‘Wow’ from any fair minded observer. And an ‘I told you so’ from their defenders who so strongly opposed all attempts install a core curriculum. One might be tempted to conclude that the Charedi claim that a core curriculum isn’t needed at all – has been right all along.  

But that conclusion would be erroneous in my view. True - a lot of Charedim have been successful at transitioning from Yeshivos and Kollelim to universities. But that is not the end of the story: 

(There) is (a) high rate of haredim who fail to complete their academic course. According to the council, there is a 50% dropout rate from higher education among haredi men and 30% for haredi women…


In the decade from 2003 to 2013, the share of prime working-age Israeli haredi men, aged 35-54, with academic degrees has remained on average at approximately 15% of the haredi male population, with a similar figure for women. Figures for young haredi men and women, aged 20-34, are even lower, with an average of below 5% for men and around 10% for women.



(Prof. Dan Ben-David, a senior faculty member of the department of public policy at Tel Aviv University and president of the Shoresh Institution for socioeconomic research) says that the most basic reason for the high dropout rate among haredi students, especially men, is their lack of a basic education at the primary and secondary school levels.

In 2013, 42% of haredi boys of elementary school age studied at institutions where no core curriculum subjects are taught, while such studies in other haredi elementary schools are often limited to just 11 hours a week. And just 2% of haredi boys obtain a school matriculation certificate, compared to the national average of 70%, along with 17% of haredi girls, although haredi girls, do in general study general education subjects in high school and take alternative exams.



Ben-David added that the quality of education at some of the colleges providing courses for haredi men and women is lower than at research universities. Although such qualifications do assist haredi men and women in finding employment, the pay is often lower than that received by employees with more qualitative degrees, and the jobs are often in sectors not necessarily related to their field of study. 

Ben-David said the primary reason for the high dropout rate and the attendance of haredi students at colleges with lower academic standards is the absence of a general education at the primary and secondary school levels. 
 

Charedim are not stupid. The course of study in Yeshivos and Kollelim is difficult and intense. Most of those studying in these institutions do so diligently - honing study skills specifically designed for such study. Although there are a variety of IQs among these students that results in different levels of knowledge, the ‘study ethic’ reigns supreme. Most of them work very hard at it. Each succeeding at their own level. They make the most of what they’ve got. 

Surely this matches their secular counterparts if not superseding them. But the skills they develop are limited to the type of study they do. Other study skills remain undeveloped. Unless one is very bright, catching up may be an impossibility. And if one adds their basic lack of any secular studies into the equation, it should not come as too much of a surprise that there is a 50% dropout rate! To put it the way professor Ben-David did:

(M)any gifted and talented haredi individuals are not fulfilling their potential, even when they manage to obtain a higher education degree.

I therefore continue to challenge the Charedi world in Israel to see what’s happening to their people. And not allow this great imbalance to continue. Their people are my people. And I believe they are still being shortchanged despite all the progress they have made. I therefore reiterate my call for installing a core curriculum into their primary and secondary educational system. And I support any means toward that end. Including restoring financial sanctions to schools that do not offer it. No. I am not pro-Shmad. I am just pro Charedi.

 


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