The annual education start-up

With over 220,000 students, Jerusalem has the largest, most complex school system in the country.

homeschooling 88 (photo credit: )
homeschooling 88
(photo credit: )
Jerusalem is an amazing mosaic in which each part requires particular attention. That is one of the beautiful aspects of our city," declared Mayor Uri Lupolianski earlier this week at the press conference convened annually before the new school year opens. Jerusalem has over 220,000 students in 1,012 officially-recognized schools, making it the largest school system in the country, with more students than the entire population of Haifa. It is also the most complex system in the country, comprising secular, religious, haredi and Arab sectors, as well as numerous private, religious, and magnet schools, the mayor noted. "Every sociopolitical trend that happens anywhere in the country happens more intensely, and all at once, in Jerusalem," continued Yehudit Shalvi, deputy municipal director-general, with responsibility for social affairs and the haredi education system. Lupolianski, Shalvi, Benzi Nemet, head of the Jerusalem Education Authority ("Manhi"), director-general Eitan Meir and other education officials showcased what they described as Jerusalem's "new and innovative educational programs." They also noted an apparent decrease in the flight of secular and national-religious students from Jerusalem's public education system. While last year, there were 1.094 percent fewer secular and national-religious students than there were the year before, this year, there is a slight increase in those students beginning first grade. Nemet also noted that overall, levels of matriculation degrees in the city have not dropped and that in the peripheral schools and some schools in the poorer neighborhoods, levels had actually risen. He also noted, however, that in some schools, including several that had received special funding, the rate of matriculation had not increased according to expectations. Citing his administration's educational goals, the mayor said, "We are integrating the understanding that we must include tolerance education in the school curricula from the very beginning, from a very young age, so that we can develop the tolerant democracy that this city needs so much." Lupolianski said that his administration emphasizes integration and social values. Noting that "integration of students with special needs into regular schools is beneficial for both the children with special needs and for the students who absorb them." he promised greater integration in all schools and highlighted a program that will integrate children diagnosed with autism into schools concentrating on the arts. "Studies have shown that children with communication difficulties do well when they have the opportunity to express themselves through art," he explained. Manhi has developed a project to integrate Ethiopian students into Jerusalem's most prestigious elementary schools, including in Beit Hakerem and Rehavia, which officials contend is the only program of its kind in Israel, "We want to raise the threshold and provide these children with the best opportunities we can," the mayor said. Officials also showcased a newly instituted, multi-year "Jerusalem Mosaic" curriculum, intended to strengthen students' connection to the city and develop an "esprit de corps" among Jerusalem's students. The project will include tours of the city and other experiential components. Focusing on the promotion of excellence and educational leadership, Manhi has developed a program for 150 10th and 11th grade students, in coordination with Ness Technologies, "in order to develop technological leadership and to keep our children in our city," Nemet said. Nemet also described an ongoing project to empower Arab girls through science education, which operates at the Belmonte Laboratories at the Givat Ram Campus in coordination with the Hebrew University. "It is just a delight to see these girls," Nemet said. "As they study in this program, they become confident and empowered in a new way." Nemet said that Manhi intends to provide enrichment programs that will take students out of their regular classrooms at least once a week for hands-on, experiential-learning enrichment programs. Emphasizing social values, Lupolianski also said that school programs would include interactions between different populations from younger ages, "as a basis for development of tolerance and a multi-cultural approach." In addition to the personal commitment program for 10th graders, instituted by the Education Ministry nationwide, Manhi is also developing programs of social involvement and community volunteering that will begin as early as third grade. Other enrichment programs are sponsored by Branco-Weiss and Jerusalem Venture Partners, in coordination with the municipality. Emphasizing that his administration has put cleaning up the city as one of its major goals, the mayor added that "programs to keep the city clean must begin with the little ones, as part of their educational experience. Children will be assuming responsibility for the cleanliness of neighborhood gardens and for their own schools." Discussing the war in Lebanon and its aftermath, Nemet said that he has instructed the principals and teachers to discuss these events with the students and to be particularly sensitive to their needs. "The children were at home, and many of them had fathers or brothers who were on reserve duty and family members in the North who were in danger or were injured," he said. Whereas in previous years, director-general Meir said, the opening of the school year had been marred by difficulties with physical structures, most schools, and all schools in west Jerusalem, now meet safety standards. Solutions were also found to ensure the safety of children and staff at the Experimental and Keshet schools, where building sites had endangered the children, according to their parents. With regard to the police station housed in a kindergarten in Ramot, Meir said that the problem had been solved and accused neighborhood administration officials of promoting the problem "for their own reasons." Yet despite the festive and positive presentation, Jerusalem education officials also admitted that the city's perennial educational problems will persist into this year, too. The municipality is about to open a girls' school in the Sur Bahir and several other schools are in the construction or planning stages, but Nemet acknowledged that there is a deficit of over 600 classrooms. An unknown number of Arab students are not even registered for school and "numerous" classrooms have been put into apartment buildings and mobile trailers. The east Jerusalem sector suffers from under-funding, high drop-out rates and low achievement levels, officials said. Officials placed responsibility for the lack of classrooms on the government which, Lupolianski accused, "continues to delay the transfer of funds necessary to build the classrooms in the Arab and haredi sectors." Added Meir, "Education is the responsibility of the government and we face an ongoing lack of resources and an impossible reality in which we are expected to supply solutions out of nowhere. We are forced to appropriate private property and spend large sums of money on solutions that the government should be providing." Soheilah Abu Ghosh, head of Arab education in Jerusalem, also noted that some 3,500 children must cross through checkpoints in the security barrier in order to attend school every day. Said Lupolianski, "We are working to ensure that the children pass through in an orderly and humane way that will enable them to attend school without fear. We prefer to relate to this issue in civilian terms, rather than in political or military terms, which are not under our jurisdiction." Ziv Ayalon, head of the Emergency and Security Department, explained that the children will pass through a "humanitarian route," which will "treat them as children." He explained, "After all, you don't check a child with a backpack on his way to school in the same way as you check an adult with a backpack." With regard to educational programs, such as "the Jerusalem Mosaic", Abu Ghosh said that most programs are implemented both in east and west Jerusalem. Programs for east Jerusalem, however, are not merely translated but are adapted to cultural needs. Benny Cohen, head of the haredi educational system, did not attend the press conference. Cohen has been severely criticized by city comptroller Shlomit Rubin for mismanagement of funds, but the municipality has failed to take disciplinary action against him. Shalvi said that she represented Cohen and officials refused to comment further. According to Shalvi, this year, as every year, some 200 Mizrahi (Sefardi) haredi girls have not yet registered for school, because they have not been accepted to the high schools of their choice, due to discrimination against Mizrahi girls, as reported by In Jerusalem ("Learning the hard way," October 28, 2005). Noting the Supreme Court-mandated rulings that haredi schools must implement equal-admissions criteria, Shalvi said, "The Education Administration is working with the legal adviser and we are working around the clock, together with rabbis, to find solutions. But Jerusalem is Jerusalem - it is a complex and difficult city," Shalvi said. Asked why the municipality does not cut off funds from schools that continue to discriminate, Shalvi said, "I'm not sure that the stick is the best option." Furthermore, she noted, since most of the funding comes from government sources, the decision would probably not be effective. Shalvi also said that, "Jerusalem definitely needs a master plan for the haredi education system. This hasn't been done for 3,000 years, and we're just starting." Earlier this week, the haredi press reported that Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, the leading Ashkenazi haredi rabbi, has stated that the entire haredi system should strike on Sunday if these girls are not accepted into appropriate schools. Eliashiv's ruling followed reports that a Mizrahi haredi man died of a heart attack upon receiving notification that his daughter had not been accepted to a prestigious haredi girls' seminar. With regard to the lack of security for over 100 kindergartens and schools in Jerusalem, Ayalon blamed the Israel Police. "The Israel Police has decided to allocate the police school patrols to other purposes. That is their set of priorities."