Melchior: Don't abandon Ethiopian education program

Project which helped raise matriculation rates substantially faces cash crisis.

melchior 224.88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
melchior 224.88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Knesset Education Committee Chairman Michael Melchior (Labor) insisted upon continued funding for the Ethiopian National Project Tuesday, in the face of severe cuts by United Jewish Communities (UJC) to its funding for the program. During an urgent committee hearing to discuss the effect of a nearly $10 million drop in support for a program which has been proven to help raise matriculation rates in the Ethiopian community in Israel, Melchior implored the funders not to withdraw. "A crime is an understatement for describing what will happen to this wonderful program, this is total destruction. I call upon the government and especially the absorption minister to take responsibility - we cannot let this project collapse," he said. "I call upon world Jewry, and especially the Jews of the US: Even though the government has not fulfilled its part of the bargain, you leave us with this gaping hole after two years of such wonderful donations...I call on you to raise more money," he added. UJC had increased its contributions over the last two years before announcing the drop-off for the coming school year. The Ethiopian National Project, which has helped thousands since its inception in 2001-2, is in danger of collapse or at least severe drawdown since the UJC announced it was reducing its contributions from $14m. to a proposed $5m, Nachman Shai, Director-General, External Relations, UJC Israel told the committee. He added that the UJC would like the government of Israel to contribute a matching $5m. However, thus far, the government has committed to contributing just NIS 9m., or about $2.5m., as it has every year. Melchior pointed out that the government's contribution was "disgraceful" since it had originally committed to funding half of a $66m. annual budget for the program, a budget which never materialized. The Education Ministry said it was looking into the possibility of moving funds from other programs intended for Ethiopians into the project. The Absorption Ministry representative at the meeting said he would take Melchior's demand for more money to his superiors. The Ethiopian National Project consists of an after-school one-on-one or small group enrichment program as well as a series of youth centers for at-risk youth across the country. According to research presented by Miriam Cohen-Navot, supervisor of the Engelberg Center for Children and Youth at the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute, the Ethiopian National Project has been remarkably successful. Citing data from 2006, Cohen-Navot said that the matriculation certificate rate and university eligibility for Ethiopians in comparison with the rest of the population were significantly lower, thus clearly indicating the need for a program like this one. While 57% of the general population were eligible for university, only 20% of the Ethiopian population made it, she said. Similarly, 64% of the general population were eligible for a matriculation certificate whereas only 35% of Ethiopians were, she said. With the program, however, eligibility for a matriculation certificate rose to 48% and university became a possibility for 33%. The program mostly focused on the mathematics and English matriculation exams, where significant improvement because of the program was also noticeable. According to Cohen-Navot's data, 68% passed the math exam in schools with the program as opposed to 56% in those without. In English, 75% passed as opposed to 61%. In addition, 80% of principals of schools where the project was initiated were happy with it. The project was implemented in 120 schools among 6,900 pupils in 2007.