State backs away from enforcing secular studies in haredi elementary schools

The government’s 2013 decision was for schools to gradually increase the total basic curriculum hours and reach 11 hours by the 2016/2017 school year.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews are taught in school. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ultra-Orthodox Jews are taught in school.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A government plan to enforce the teaching of basic curriculum studies in the ultra-Orthodox boys elementary school system has been pushed back until 2017.
In May 2013, the government approved a decision that would require haredi elementary schools to teach at least 11 hours of English, Hebrew and math, defined as the basic curriculum, in order to get the status of a recognized but unofficial school.
Such schools in the haredi education system receive 75 percent of the budget received by state schools, and are expected to allocate 75% of school hours for the basic curriculum.
In practice, however, the overwhelming majority of haredi elementary schools teach almost no secular subjects at all.
The government’s 2013 decision was supposed to gradually increase the total number of hours of basic curriculum studies at such schools from 75% to 100% – starting from nine hours this year and reaching the full 11 hours in the 2016/2017 academic year.
Schools not complying with these stipulations were to have been subject to a heavy reduction in state funding, facing cuts from 75% of the budget received by regular state-funded schools to just 30%.
But the Economic Arrangements Law for 2015 includes a clause that will abandon the previous timeline for implementation of the minimum hours for basic curriculum studies, and the requirements will only begin to take effect in the 2017/2018 academic year.
Director of the Hiddush religious pluralism lobbying group and Reform Rabbi Uri Regev said that the decision to delay implementation of the government decision would cause great damage to the future of Israel and its economy.
He described the original 2013 decision to enforce the teaching of basic curriculum subjects as one of the most important decisions taken by Yesh Atid since the beginning of the current Knesset.
“Instead, however, the [Education] ministry has postponed the implementation of this decision until the next government, as Yesh Atid has done on the issue of haredi enlistment.
The consequences are the effective abolition of the requirement for haredi schools to teach core curriculum subjects, the continued education to ignorance in the haredi sector, a severe injury to the Israeli economy and another fatal blow to the public trust in the political system,” Regev said.
An adviser to Education Minister Shai Piron told The Jerusalem Post in response that although the original intention of the ministry had been to implement the reforms as soon as possible, two factors had prevented implementation.
First, there was a lack of haredi teachers able to teach English and math, and it would take time before a large enough repository of such teachers would be available, he said.
There were legal problems in reducing school budgets when viable alternatives were not in place, he said, adding that the ministry did not want to force the haredi education system to employ non-haredi teachers in order to avoid ideological conflicts with the sector.
The second obstacle was a lack of inspectors to enforce and oversee the teaching of the minimum number of hours for the basic curriculum, he said.
The ministry has started teacher-training courses for haredi teachers in math and English and is increasing the number of available inspectors, he added.