Study: 48% of pupils are Arab, haredi

Taub Center report shows national-religious, secular education has shrunk over the last decade.

haredi students school 248 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
haredi students school 248 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
With the 2009-2010 school year set to begin this Tuesday, a new report released by an independent research institute shows that non-ultra-Orthodox Jews are rapidly becoming a minority in the country's education system, while the soon-to-be majority, Israeli Arab and haredi pupils, are receiving a level of education that is "considerably below Western standards". Using recently published figures from the Education Ministry, the Taub Center for Social Policy Research, a socioeconomic research group based in Jerusalem, found that at the beginning of the decade, 39 percent of the country's pupils studied in either the Israeli Arab or ultra-Orthodox school systems. Over the last decade however, preliminary findings from the group's annual survey show that the number of Israeli Arab pupils in the country grew by 10 percent while the number of ultra- Orthodox pupils grew by over five times as much, 51 percent. In contrast, the study shows that the number of pupils in state-run religious schools grew by 8 percent while the total number of pupils in the largest group of schools - the non-religious state education system - actually decreased in size. As a result, within the span of just one decade, 48 percent of the country's pupils now study in either the Israeli Arab or the ultra-Orthodox school system, and increase of nearly 10 percentage points. The remainder, which is currently 52 percent of the total - and falling annually, according to the study - are enrolled in either the state-run religious or state-run secular schools. "In light of the rapidly changing demographics within Israel, the Taub Center concludes that it is vitally important for the country to begin focusing on what is being taught to the children who will be the majority population in a generation, and asks whether they are being given the basic skills to work in a modern economy and live in a modern society," a press release from the Taub Center said. The Taub Center's Executive Director, Professor Dan Ben-David, said that at present, the answer to this question was an overwhelming "no". Ben-David explained that a comparison with 25 countries from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), who participated in the 2006 Program from International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, which focused on some of the more important core subjects like math, science and reading, showed that the average achievements of Israel's non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish population were tied with the last place OECD country, while the achievement levels of Israel's Arab pupils were even worse. "[The Israeli Arab pupils'] grades were 14 percent below the Israeli national average," he said. "And ultra-Orthodox pupils didn't even participate in the exams - no other country excluded such a large proportion of its population from the exams - and the [haredi schools] have no national core curriculum that is enforced." The report goes on to show that one consequence of the evidence from the educational realm could be found in Israel's labor market, where employment rates for both groups are substantially below what is common in developed countries with correspondingly low average incomes. "While other factors certainly contribute to the low employment rates, the role played by the education system has been considerable," the report states. "The quickness of the demographic changes that are taking place within Israel's education system and the level of education that is currently being provided to these two groups suggest a current default economic and social trajectory that will not be sustainable in the future." "A government which does not dramatically improve Israel's educational system in the very near future, with substantial emphasis on improving the quality of education received by these two groups in particular, is letting the country edge ever closer to a point where it may no longer be possible to change direction - with all of the existential implications that this implies for the country," the report concludes. "I knew that this was happening, but I had never really looked at it like this," Ben-David said. "For me it was a real surprise to see how fast these changes were happening, and when you combine them with the level of education these groups are receiving, you have to ask, what kind of country is this going to be in a generation?"