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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
A new program established by the social action organization Shatil aims to increase technological training among Ethiopian immigrant youth and to eventually distribute laptop computers to teens, as part of a long-term plan to raise educational, social and economic levels in the community.
"Escape from the Edge," a program that was established less than a year ago to boost educational achievements and reduce the number of youth at risk from the former Soviet Union, launched its work in the Ethiopian community last month.
This week, the program published a study that highlighted growing educational and social gaps between the Ethiopian immigrant community and Israeli society as a whole.
The study noted that only about half of all Ethiopian students complete eight years of study, compared to 94.6 percent of the general population, and 12% of Ethiopian teens dropped out of high school by the age of 17, compared to 5% of veteran Israelis.
Furthermore, in 2005, less than 34% of Ethiopian teens qualified to take their high school matriculation exams and only 18% were eligible to sit for university entrance tests. That compared to 58% and 51%, respectively, among other Jewish teens.
In 2004-2005, only 46% of Ethiopian males aged 22-64 were fully employed, as were 53% of the women,the report said. And more than half of the community (52%) lives below the poverty line.
"These figures are not new," Escape from the Edge director Milana Ya'ari said Wednesday, adding that the new project's budget was $500,000 per year for the next four years. "We know the situation for all immigrant teens is harsh and for Ethiopian youth it is even worse. What is important now is how we deal with it."
Escape from the Edge proposes to increase technological training among Ethiopian students and eventually to provide those who reach a certain level of knowledge with a personal laptop. The long-term goal, said Ya'ari, is to increase the community's representation in hi-tech and science.
"These are the areas that Ethiopians do not see themselves in," she said.
"Every program that helps the Ethiopian community is very welcomed," said Avi Masfin of the Israel Association of Ethiopian Jews, a grassroots community organization that has been working on implementing an affirmative action program in government offices. "However, it is still not an alternative to making improvements in the mainstream educational system, which is the responsibility of the government to improve assistance for Ethiopian schoolchildren."
"Strengthening technology is definitely a move in the right direction," he continued. "Not every Ethiopian child has access to a computer at home and this type of initiative will certainly address that."
While Escape from the Edge is still in the pilot phase, Ya'ari said the program has already kicked off in Gadera and Yavne, with its first challenge to familiarize immigrant children with computer technology that most other Israeli kids take for granted.
She said other organizations have tried similar projects in the past but failed because there was no continuing support after funding ended.
"We are looking at previous programs to see why they failed and where they succeeded," said Ya'ari, adding that an essential element was to include parents and other family members in the process.
"We also hope to develop some computer programs in the Amharic language so that the parents can become partners with this venture, too," she said. "The computer can then be used by the whole family and can be a meeting point between parents and their children."
Many Ethiopian immigrant parents struggle with Hebrew and are unable to assist their children in the learning process. Some even end up relying on their more integrated children for assistance in simple day-to-day tasks.
"We believe that we should no longer be using children as a bridge to help parents understand what is going on around them," said Ya'ari. "We also want to focus on helping the parents help their children. Without strong parents you will have weak children."