Students in Orthodox Jewish day schools in Argentina are 34% more likely to achieve a high level of Hebrew language understanding than students of other Jewish day schools in the country, a survey conducted by Argentina’s umbrella Jewish organization has shown.
Students studying in Orthodox schools demonstrated better performance in Hebrew than those studying in other Jewish schools. More than half (54%) of those studying in Orthodox schools managed to reach an advanced performance level compared to 20% of those studying in other schools. These numbers are understandable since Orthodox schools devote more hours to Jewish studies, including the learning of Hebrew.
The survey was conducted among thousands of students in Jewish schools by the AMIA organization, in collaboration with the University of Torcuato di Tella. The survey, which included 1,143 students from 27 elementary schools, 843 students from 13 high schools, and 1,289 families, focused on three aspects: Hebrew language, Israel’s history and the tradition and origins of Judaism.
'Alarming' Data on Jews of Argentina
Decades ago, it was customary to say that the Jews of Argentina, known for their closeness and love of Israel, mastered the Hebrew language and spoke it fluently. Yet the in-depth survey there provided surprising, alarming and intriguing data regarding the current generation of Argentine Jews.
Argentina’s Jewish community is one of the world’s largest. According to some estimates, there are close to 200,000 Jews in the South American country, most of whom live in the capital city of Buenos Aires, where 75% of the country’s Jewish educational institutions are also located. There are about 25,000 young Jews studying in Argentina’s Jewish nurseries, kindergartens, elementary schools, high schools and colleges for teacher training. Some 29% of all students in the Jewish education network study in the two World Ort schools.
“The difficulties in learning the Hebrew language at the elementary school level are related to the ability [of the student] to identify the central ideas and explicit information” that they’ve been given to read in Hebrew, such as in long texts that may include a description of events, feelings and desires, according to the survey’s authors.
Among high school students in Jewish schools, there was difficulty identifying the relevance of texts, as well as of solving tasks that needed an understanding of a certain term or phrase.
Yet, according to the survey, both with elementary and high school students, it was found that the majority of them were at the intermediate out of three levels. In addition, a majority of elementary school students (59.1%) managed to understand the main ideas and identify explicit information in advertisements, menus and schedules in short and simple texts.
Most high school students (58.8%) managed to understand the main ideas of a Hebrew text, even when they were not expressed specifically. In addition, they were able to distinguish between different opinions expressed in a text.
According to the study, parents of Jewish students in Argentina said there “is need for improvement in the level of Hebrew education in Jewish schools.” Some of the parents indicated that there weren’t enough hours of Hebrew and Judaism classes, but others preferred more secular studies. The survey also showed that the expectation for Jewish education by parents depends on the level to Jewish affiliation and commitment of each family.
World Zionist Organization chairman Yaakov Hagoel told The Jerusalem Post that “In the past 15 years, we have seen a decline in the level of knowledge of the Hebrew language among Jews all over the world. The WZO invests enormous resources in encouraging teaching of the Hebrew language among the Jewish communities in the Diaspora, in order to ensure that it is given importance by the communities and on behalf of the schools.”
"In the past 15 years, we have seen a decline in the level of knowledge of the Hebrew language among Jews all over the world."Yaakov Hagoel
Hagoel noted that according to the survey, Diaspora Jews are in a constant state of tension between the desire to ensure future generations’ connection to Judaism and “the desire to provide their children tools and skills that will help them integrate into the international workforce.”