ACRI: Just a fraction of 2,200 court-mandated east Jerusalem classrooms have been completed

NGO: In spite of High Court ruling, only 150 finished in 5 years; Municipality: We’ve built 400

east Jerusalem 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
east Jerusalem 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
As the first week of the new school year commences, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and the NGO Ir Amim released a sobering annual report delineating the dire shortfall of education infrastructure and standards in east Jerusalem compared to west Jerusalem.
The report, released Monday, concluded that the Jerusalem Municipality and Education Ministry are doing little to meet a 2011 High Court ruling that ordered the completion of 2,200 classrooms in the eastern part of the capital by 2016.
In February 2011, the court imposed two mandates on the state: the completion of the infrastructure necessary to admit east Jerusalem students to official municipal schools; and a marked increase in the funding of “unofficial” but recognized, institutions absorbing the remaining students.
Acknowledging that the infrastructure shortage was too significant to remedy over a brief span of time, the court gave the municipality and the state until 2016 to implement the changes.
Despite Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s assertions that the municipality has invested significantly more than previous administrations in improving the educational infrastructure of east Jerusalem, the report stated that since 2009 only 150 new classrooms have been completed.
Meanwhile, according to the report, the total Arab dropout rate in east Jerusalem was 13 percent. Comparatively, it stated that in 2011 the dropout rate in west Jerusalem was 1%.
Furthermore, during the 2012-2013 school year, the report found that 10% of Arab children in the 8th and 9th grades were not enrolled in any educational institution, while 20% of 10th-graders and 30% of 11th-graders were not enrolled.
“The result is that 36% of children in east Jerusalem fail to complete a full 12 years of school,” the report stated.
Another section in the report found a pronounced disparity in the allocation of school guidance counselors, with only 29 counselors assigned to east Jerusalem, compared to 250 counselors in west Jerusalem.
This lack of parity was exacerbated, the report stated, due to the difficult socioeconomic conditions many Arab families face – relative to their west Jerusalem counterparts – and the dire need for school personnel to support students.
In a strongly worded statement, Oshrat Maimon, the policy advocacy director at Ir Amim, accused both mayoral candidates – Barkat and Moshe Lion – of catering to right-wing nationalists at the expense of Palestinian students.
“It is regrettable that instead of attending to the existing gaps, the candidates for mayor choose to devote their energy and resources to satisfying the demands of the nationalist right in Jerusalem,” said Maimon.
Maimon also noted that the gap between the educational standards in the eastern and western sections of the capital continues to grow exponentially each year, and therefore requires an urgent response from elected officials in both the municipality and the government.
“[A change] requires a paradigm shift in priorities and those who adhere to democratic values must see to it that it is done,” she said.
Ronit Sela, director of ACRI’s East Jerusalem Projects added that the enormous shortage in east Jerusalem classrooms, budgets, personnel and educational programming constitutes a “serious violation of the right to education of tens of thousands of Palestinian schoolchildren.”
In response to the report, the municipality issued a statement defending Barkat’s efforts, and accused ACRI and Ir Amin of “recycling the same distorted annual report” ignoring the municipality’s strides to reverse “40 years of neglect” in east Jerusalem.
“During Mayor Barkat’s tenure, hundreds of new classrooms were built in east Jerusalem,” the statement said.
“The municipality invested an unprecedented amount of more than NIS 400 million in the construction of 400 additional classrooms.”
Apart from the construction of new classrooms and schools, the municipality said it is actively promoting a “technological revolution” in east Jerusalem, in which the city will distribute 1,720 computers to kindergartens and teachers in east Jerusalem, and 350 additional computers for students’ homes.
The municipality added that since last year it invested NIS 1 million of the city’s budget to create a new plan to teach science and math-related subjects in east Jerusalem.
“The purpose of the program is to increase the percentage of students who take final science exams, as well as to open a variety of options for students in the education and vocational training sectors to help them enter the labor market in the future,” the statement said.
The municipality went on to claim to be leading the effort to curb east Jerusalem’s high dropout rate by allocating an additional budget of NIS 1 million to create an “unprecedented” preventative program.
“This is an unprecedented decision by the mayor to invest in the problem after years of neglect,” it said.
“The new budget will bring a significant amount of new plans to deal with the problem of high-school dropouts, as well as the emotional and behavioral aspects alongside the learning domain.”
Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.