(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The significant increase in the education budget in recent years (up 50 percent in the past five years) has led to increased financial investment in each student, but the figure remains low compared to the OECD average. If in recent years we have seen the start of a dialogue on a quality educational system and teachers who are continually improving, the new report published by the OECD warned the country’s leaders that education still needs a significant budget increase.
This esteemed organization’s experts also indicated the holes in the bottom of the boat, which are the Arab and ultra-Orthodox sectors, and also recommend that the Education Ministry increase the independence of schools and enhance vocational education.
Ultra-Orthodox girls, of course, learn the core curriculum and take matriculation exams. The situation is different with the boys. In recent years, the AMIT Network, in collaboration with the ministry, took upon itself the exceptional task of establishing two models of ultra-Orthodox educational institutions for boys.
At these schools, the ultra-Orthodox ethos and halachic limitations set by the rabbis are maintained alongside a full core curriculum and matriculation exams in academic subjects including English, math and science.
One is the Haredi Technology Center AMIT Menorat HaMaor in Petach Tikva for students who have dropped out of yeshivas, and whose teachers and parents found that they are not suited to full-time study in a yeshiva, or in worst-case scenarios those who have dropped out of school and gone to work or are idle at home.
The school was established under the auspices of Rabbi Maya and with the support of former minister Eli Yishai.
This year the first class will complete its studies with 80% of students eligible for a matriculation certificate, and the majority, 50% of graduating seniors, are eligible for full academic matriculation certificates (32 units).
THE SECOND school is a yeshiva geared toward outstanding ultra-Orthodox students who wish to engage in serious Torah alongside academic studies at the highest level. These superb students study Talmud every day until the afternoon, and only then begin to learn English, math and science at the highest, five-unit level.
The secret of success in both schools is that the teachers are accepted by parents and the ultra-Orthodox rabbis who run the institutions, and the school conducts itself, including selecting specific textbooks and more, respectfully and cautiously. Although the two institutions represent entirely different populations, each leads to one place: they provide ultra-Orthodox graduates with the opportunity and the skills to successfully enter the job market while remaining in their communities and maintaining their observant way of life.
The OECD report states that “integrating math, science and language studies in Haredi schools is critical to provide students with the basic skills to find jobs.” Both of these schools are models for two types of populations that can provide students, through dialogue and communication, with matriculation, skills and employment.
Alongside the new report, we need to make sure that the essential investment in the ultra-Orthodox and Arab sectors does not harm investment in education in the periphery. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, there is a difference of 9% between the percentage of those eligible for matriculation in the south and the percentage of those eligible in Tel Aviv. The gap in math scores on standardized tests is much higher, more than 30% in favor of Tel Aviv.
Most children in the periphery are not from these two sectors. But to keep pace with the children of Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan they need the support of the State of Israel. Most of AMIT’s schools are in the periphery and currently have over 80% matriculation success, thanks to a superior work plan, efficient budget investment in the right places (mentors and one-on-one lessons for students) connecting teachers to goals, and pooling resources together with the ministry, local authorities and foundations.
Now we are working on raising the quality of bagrut certificates, and the state needs to increase investment for this very purpose. This is the best way for the Treasury to raise the GDP in the next decade. This is the best startup of the State of Israel, not only for children but also for the future of the economy as well.
The author is the director general of the AMIT Network.