Corridors of Power: The state of education

Compulsory schooling? Equal and open for all? Forget it! The creation of semi-private institutions has led to the decline of the state system

Elementary school 521 (photo credit: Sherihan Abdel-Rahman)
Elementary school 521
(photo credit: Sherihan Abdel-Rahman)
In Western civilization, French king Charlemagne was the person most commonly identified with state education for children. Since his lifetime (747-814), many things have changed.
Scholarship has evolved, but basically the process has remained the same – children go to school, receive an education and graduate. The fact that the king, right from the beginning, decreed that school would be open to all children in the kingdom (including his own daughters, according to legend) was very innovative at the time. But one may be shocked to realize that today, more than a millennium later, this is still not the case in many parts of the world.
What does that have to do with the new school year in Jerusalem? Simply, and sadly, it has to do with the fact that education here is not offered equally to all children. Not that the Jerusalem children are not sent to school, heaven forbid. But not all the children make it to the best schools here, due to the fact that some of those schools are very expensive.
What was good enough for the Middle Ages – compulsory education free of charge and equal – is not yet totally implemented in 2012 in Jerusalem (and the rest of the country). Embarrassing but true.
There are many explanations for this. Most “experts” on the subject attribute the situation to the state’s decision in July 1968 to launch the “integration” process, whereby pupils from underprivileged neighborhoods would be combined with pupils from affluent areas.
That decision was, in fact, a classic case of “good intentions that paved the road to hell.” Wealthy parents who didn’t like the idea of their children sharing a classroom with kids from neglected neighborhoods looked for a way to circumvent the new rules. They found the solution in specialized schools, which offered courses in various subjects beyond the state curriculum, and that cost money, a lot of money, thus creating a natural segregation between the haves and the have-nots.
And so the city of Jerusalem (a pioneer in this field, with a large number of specialized schools) began to offer such institutions (e.g., the Jerusalem. High School of the Arts, The Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and the Boyer High School, as well as the TALI elementary schools). Officially, any child is welcome to attend any one of these institutions – as long as the parents have the means (up to NIS 17,000 a year in some schools) and the pupil passes special tests (not required by the Education Ministry, it must be noted) to assess his or her level of knowledge.
Compulsory education? Equal and open for all? Forget it! We’re not in Charlemagne’s times anymore – we’re in a modern era.
Not all the parents chose those specialized schools because they were afraid their children would become friendly with underprivileged children. They did so mainly because they wanted the best education for their children, which regular schools no longer provided.
But that further increased the decline of the other schools, which couldn’t offer extracurricular courses in science, computers, arts, etc., to justify matching the huge fees that the specialized schools were charging.
And so in Jerusalem, despite being one of the poorest cities in Israel, one can find some of the most expensive educational institutions in the country, with fees that are twice or three times as high as university tuitions, while they are all (except the private Leyada High School) recognized as semi-private state schools.
Why? Because the system requires success and faces a lot of competition – all the things precisely provided by those specialized schools.
Officially, the municipality should not permit this.
According to the rules of the Education Ministry, school principals are forbidden to ask for any fees beyond those that the state requires. But then, these schools offer additional courses that are not provided by the state – and here, the municipal education administration admits, nothing can prevent schools from offering and parents from paying. Except for those who can’t afford it.
So what will happen to the famous education revolution that is planned for the city? It’s on its way – depending, of course, on which school you want to look at.