Teacher with students.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The school year began yesterday after a long summer break. Education Minister
Gideon Sa’ar has pioneered important critiques and reforms of the schools system
that need to be taken to heart. The most important is his decision to close
schools that, because of poor planning and the ability of certain parents to
send their children elsewhere, have become dead ends for Israel’s
These schools, such as Ner Etzion in Petah Tikva and Rashbi
in Be’er Ya’acov, are representative of a wider phenomenon that has plagued the
state for its 63 years of existence.
Because new immigrants were often
encouraged, and in many cases sent, by the government to settle certain parts of
the country, many communities became semi-homogenous.
From a standpoint
of preserving diverse cultures, this may have had a positive effect in some
cases. But from a standpoint of education, it has been disastrous, primarily
because of the discrimination that resulted in many communities being given
The Ethiopian immigrants are the latest to
experience this trend. However, their case is somewhat different because the
most recent immigrants are mandated to send their children to religious schools.
In places such as Petah Tikva they may have limited options as to where to send
their children to, which results in the schools becoming disproportionately
The solution is not clear cut, but what is clear is that a
form of segregation, even by mistake, is unacceptable.
A similar problem
is developing in south Tel Aviv, where the municipality is opening kindergartens
for the burgeoning population of foreign worker, migrant and refugee children.
This plan will have negative consequences.
The fact that the government
has allowed a huge number of foreign workers, many of them here illegally, to
concentrate in an area in south Tel Aviv that already suffered from government
abandonment of its largely North African Jewish population, has created a
growing social problem.
Opening separate kindergartens for the foreign
children, albeit with the excuse that there is a lack of space in the existing
ones, is not a solution and will only create long-term separation between locals
and the newcomers. The problem is primarily one of continuing to try to
hide the problem by shunting it off to its own corner.
Aviv’s residents, especially the wealthier ones who employ most of the foreign
workers, need to take responsibility for foreign workers and their
Rather than hiding them, they should be integrated throughout
Tel Aviv’s school system, so that they cannot be ignored.
shortcoming that the Education Ministry tried to improve was in the role of
civics (called Ezrahut) education in the schools. Civics is usually taught to
10th- to 12th-graders. In 2010, the ministry attempted to cut the budget
allotted to civics education, only to change its policy in the end. The problem
with civics is not the budget, but the way in which is it taught. Israel
educators believe that civics education is about teaching, according to one
teacher, “the rifts in Israeli society.”
Civics has become a code word
for teaching students only about the supposed ills of Israeli society, such as
encouraging students to believe that the country is an undemocratic state, and
one in which minorities always suffer. Civics is not taught this way in Western
countries, where students primarily learn about the foundations of democracy,
branches of government and political ideologies.
In Israel, tragically,
many teachers are encouraged to follow a curriculum that is designed to turn
every student into a critic of the country and its institutions, rather than a
member of a strong democracy with a healthy love for that democracy. Rather than
cut the budget for civics, the Education Ministry should articulate why the
lessons have become so divisive.
Why are courses designed to teach about
democracy degenerating into long-running debates about the “rifts” in society,
leaving the students with the impression that their society is rotten, rather
than teaching about the positive aspects of democracy versus totalitarian rule?
This is an important question, not only for 12thgraders, but also for the entire
country, and one that begins with providing Israeli students a first-class
education, free from bias, both ethnic and ideological.