Thousands of Israeli kids expected to drop out of school over poverty

52,830 first graders beginning their education this week are poor, the Latet NGO warns

Children are returning to school in Israel amid the coronavirus pandemic. August 24, 2020. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Children are returning to school in Israel amid the coronavirus pandemic. August 24, 2020.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Among the two million pupils who began their school year this week, from kindergarten to high school seniors, every third student faces poverty, Latet said on Thursday.
The umbrella group for 180 nonprofit aid organizations said 52,830 first graders are suffering from poverty.
The study, conducted among 1,200 recipients of aid, found that 36% confessed that their children are skipping meals to help parents survive financially and 26% say their children are sent to school without a packed lunch or a sandwich. Some 69% acknowledge that their children lack basic school books and 75% think they won’t be able to afford all the fees the school requires.
Latet founder and president Gilles Darmon told The Jerusalem Post that this creates a “scissors effect” where one blade is composed of the poverty caused by COVID-19 and the other blade is due to a struggling educational program that demands families to provide computers for their children.
 Lacking computers, the children are being cut off from the normative society. “Their chance of gaining work skills and eventually taking part in the workforce is almost zero,” he said. “We are now seeing the making of Israel’s poverty report 15 years down the road.”
“In the US, the federal government spends $68 billion per year on food stamps to ensure food security,” he told the Post. “Here, sadly, children go to school on an empty stomach and nobody is trying to prevent that from happening. This is unimaginable.”
Education Ministry official Haim Halperin told the Post that every child who attends school until 4 p.m. gets a hot meal according to the nutritional requirements created by the ministry’s health experts. “This is as far away as you can be from a bun with a hot dog,” he said.
The afternoon education programs, also known as a “long school day” are offered in less affluent locations children from disadvantaged families get the help they need. For example, children in north Tel Aviv might finish school at 1 p.m. while children in the south of the city leave at 4 p.m.
“The ministry offers 39 million hot meals per year,” he said, “parents can also register their kids to the Nitzanim program, which will offer the child a hot meal if he or she stays in school until 4 p.m.”
At the cost of NIS 650 per child, Nitzanim is also partly subsidized by the ministry with parents in lower-economic-level local councils paying NIS 50 and those living in other parts of the country being asked to pay NIS 300.
Latet anticipates the economic crisis the country is dealing with will lead to hundreds of thousands of children dropping out of school to help their parents make ends meet.
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz offered large-scale national aid programs such as a “Check for Each Citizen” and “Safety Nets,” such programs are meant to keep businesses floating and people with basic means of support.
Those who were close to the poverty line before COVID-19 started and might have taken a second or third job cleaning offices or washing dishes at a restaurant have less ability to supplement their incomes in this way since many businesses are reducing their office space and restaurants are reporting a massive loss of income.
Poverty isn’t just learning on an empty stomach, using a cheap second-hand copy or out-of-date textbook: It also means lacking computers or high-speed Internet.
While first-graders are expected to study at school for at least five days a week, older students will do more studying from home. This will be the case particularly if the nation continues to undergo increases of coronavirus patients.
Even families that are able to keep their children in school might be hard-pressed to buy three laptops and a fast web connection. Finding a quiet workspace is itself a challenge in many homes.
Two-thirds of the study participants reported that their children don’t have a quiet space to study and three-quarters reported that their children were unable to complete school tasks because they lack a home computer.
While the Education Ministry vowed to purchase computers to ensure that schools will be able to lend laptops to children who don’t have one at home and to install one computer and one projector in each class to ensure access to digital curricula now being created – all those things take time – and school is already open.
“We don’t make computers,” Ofer Rimon, the Education Ministry’s deputy head of remote learning, told the Post.
“What we have been doing is to create a team of 15 people who are in touch with 256 local councils and discuss with each school in the country what their needs are so that the second the budget is wired we can run with it,” he said.
Darmon said “the Education Ministry decided to create a remote-study program that will sacrifice 20% of the kids. This is unacceptable.”