At an education crossroads

This country stands at an education crossroads. The route Israel chooses to take will have a huge bearing on the country’s future success.

July 1, 2019 21:30
2 minute read.
Pupils at Tiferet Chaya School for Girls in Elad

Pupils at Tiferet Chaya School for Girls in Elad. (photo credit: Courtesy)

It may not be immediately obvious, but education and antisemitism – two of the main challenges facing the Israeli government today – are related. At World ORT, the global network driven by Jewish values, we are perfectly placed to meet these challenges.

Our mission has been to bridge gaps. In Israel that is a two-fold mission – to bridge gaps between different communities within the country, and to bridge gaps between Israel and the rest of the world.

This country stands at an education crossroads. The route Israel chooses to take will have a huge bearing on the country’s future success.

According to the OECD, in 2015 Israel was fifth from bottom in ranking students’ mathematics, science and reading levels. For expenditure per child at the secondary level, Israel fared even worse: fourth from bottom.

It is putting great strain on hard-working educators to expect them to produce skilled and knowledgeable students when no investment – either of money, of faith or of confidence – is made in their education.

Many students find themselves in extremely difficult life situations: unemployed or underemployed parents, language barriers, recent arrival in a new country, frightening security situation, living in the periphery and suffering from a lack of government investment in general.

Effectively, the Start-Up Nation will lose its reputation unless its education improves. To reverse the trend, meaningful and well-directed investment is needed. Of course, the government must take chief responsibility for this. But philanthropy must also play its part. This is where World ORT has a crucial role to play. Since our establishment in Israel 12 years ago, we have invested more than $100 million in working to reduce these gaps.

We have invested in communities in the country’s geographic and socioeconomic periphery. We have provided support to immigrants, non-Jews, strictly Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Druze, Bedouin and poorer Jewish communities. But what we are doing is a drop in the ocean. We need the wider, more sustained support of the state and world Jewry.

This crisis takes on more importance given the global rise in antisemitism. Education is the most effective way to combat hatred. This must begin from an early age.

Our schools in Latin America, Europe and the former Soviet Union are mixed Jewish and non-Jewish schools. Our non-Jewish students study Jewish history, culture and traditions, promoting increased understanding between children. We are partners in the Scholas program – Pope Francis’s initiative to encourage understanding and cooperation between youngsters of all backgrounds. We run Tikkun Olam programs and initiatives to support non-Jewish communities.

These are all geared toward providing not only an academic education, but also a social education, encouraging students to be good citizens of the world and promote Jewish values.

These aims – a strong Israel, a strong Diaspora and a strong reputation for Jews worldwide – are what ORT has been working toward for the past 139 years. As we approach our 140th anniversary, we will continue to strive to place the future in the hands of the next generation.

The writer is the director-general and CEO of the international Jewish educational organization World ORT, which provides scientific and technological educational programs and training as a tool for promoting economic independence with the aim of reducing socioeconomic gaps.

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