No more English, math and science studies in haredi schools?

Knesset education panel approves bill to cancel core studies in ultra-Orthodox institutions.

Haredi students in classroom (photo credit: Courtesy)
Haredi students in classroom
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Knesset Education, Sports and Culture Committee approved a bill for a second and third (final) reading in the Knesset calling to cancel core curriculum requirements in haredi schools as a prerequisite for government funding.
The bill aims to repeal the law passed during the previous government by Yesh Atid and then-education minister Shai Piron, which conditioned the budget received by ultra-Orthodox schools on the teaching of at least 11 hours per week of English, math and science, dubbed the core curriculum.
The law was supposed to reduce the funding of what are known as “exempt institutions,” which many male haredi pupils attend for their elementary education.
Committee chairman Ya’acov Margi (Shas) opened the discussion and said he wanted to clarify that the bill was never properly enforced, and so was never actually put into practice.
“We are talking about a small group, that even if the Education Ministry will take from them the symbol of their institution, they will still not teach the core subjects,” he said.
Margi said that he personally believes the core curriculum should be taught in schools, “but I do know how to respect this group. We are a multicultural society, so please respect these communities,” he said.
“Forced processes do not succeed,” he added.
MK Elazar Stern criticized the haste with which the bill was sped through the Knesset, questioning why the committee was convened so hastily to discuss such an important bill.
“Are we here to talk about human rights and compulsion, or are we here to talk about education?” he said in response to Margi.
The new bill would effectively abolish the need for haredi schools to teach the core curriculum, and will grant the education minister broad authority to determine which schools to give budgets to without any restrictions or conditions.
MK Menachem Eliezer Moses (United Torah Judaism) said that ultra-Orthodox pupils do learn some core subjects but do not study the entirety of the Education Ministry’s curriculum.
“It is not that they don’t study secular studies.
It is not that they don’t learn,” he said.
Moses explained that the law only affects around 1.8 percent of the education system and 10% of the ultra-Orthodox education system. “What does it bother you that a few tens of thousands sit in a tent and study Torah?” he challenged.
MK Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid) responded that it doesn’t bother him that the ultra-Orthodox study the Torah. “It bothers me that you cannot give 10 hours a week to receive a tool box for the future of these children in the State of Israel. The only way to raise their standard of living is through studying [core subjects],” he said.
“You, the haredim are able to bring Israeli society to the next stage but you have to want to receive help from this State. Any outline you offer we will accept,” he said.
MK Manuel Trajtenberg (Zionist Union) said the government was shirking its responsibilities toward a population group that does have the desire to integrate into society.
“Because the haredim do not gain the skills, they are unable to work or they work in fields and jobs that pay minimum wage,” he said.
Trajtenberg, who heads the Knesset’s Lobby for the Creation of Opportunities for the Haredi Public in Israel, said that the main complaints he received from the ultra-Orthodox was that they do not know English, basic mathematics or computer skills.
“Some 50% fail in the preparatory schools because they don’t know the basics. The ultra-Orthodox population is desperate for unique employment. They want to get out of poverty. But if we do not build the minimal basis for them, we will have wronged them,” he said.
The committee passed the bill by a vote of seven to three.