Barkat dedicates Arab kindergarten amid criticism

In scathing report ACRI and Ir Amim say Eastern part of Jerusalem needs 1,100 more classrooms.

Barkat, Rivlin visit special needs Arab kindergarten 370 (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
Barkat, Rivlin visit special needs Arab kindergarten 370
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat dedicated a new special-needs kindergarten in the Arab neighborhood of Beit Hanina on Monday amid criticism that east Jerusalem lacks well over 1,000 classrooms.
In a scathing report, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Ir Amim said that despite municipal efforts, the gaps between east Jerusalem and west Jerusalem schools are staggering.
East Jerusalem schools have one of the highest drop-out rates in the country, at 40 percent of 12th graders; have just one guidance counselor per 2,500 students; and have resources to provide free nursery school for only 5 percent of students between the ages of three to six despite Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s promise for free schooling starting two years before kindergarten.
The report also highlighted the fact that 20,000 young people in east Jerusalem between the ages of six and 18 are not enrolled in any municipal school framework.
According to municipal population figures there are a quarter of a million students aged 6- 18 in the city, with 106,534 living in east Jerusalem. However, the Jerusalem Education Administration (JEA) counts only 86,018 east Jerusalem students between ages six and 18 as being enrolled in school.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was unfamiliar with the statistics.
However, Lara Mubariki, deputy director of JEA in charge of the Arab sector, said the gap could be attributed to students from east Jerusalem who study in Palestinian schools on the other side of the security barrier.
“We don’t know about students learning in Ramallah,” she said.
However, ACRI and Ir Amim expressed doubt that there were 20,000 students studying in Palestinian schools and accused the municipality of allowing thousands of young people to fall through the cracks.
“The ongoing shortage of classrooms appears even more severe when taking into consideration the authorities’ confusion regarding the number of children currently residing in east Jerusalem for whom they must provide classrooms,” the report states. “The number of children naturally informs not only the number of required classrooms but also the scale of the budget and resources to be allocated to education within east Jerusalem. Attempts to acquire clear data have shown that the responsible authorities have not conducted comprehensive surveillance.”
According to the report, the city lacks approximately 1,100 classrooms in east Jerusalem.
This, despite a Supreme Court decision in February 2011 that ruled that the Jerusalem Municipality and the Ministry of Education must enable every child from east Jerusalem to register at an official school in their residential area or receive tuition reimbursement if forced to register at a private or unofficial but recognized school.
(Such schools are partially funded by the Education Ministry but may be for-profit.) At the dedication of the new Eshkol kindergarten in Beit Hanina on Monday, Barkat stressed that 400 classrooms were in various stages of approval or construction in east Jerusalem, more than during any previous administration.
“The gaps between the center of the city and this part of the city need to be addressed, especially the physical differences, and the gaps need to be closed after years of neglect,” said Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who also attended the dedication.
“This is a beautiful building that needed to be completed long ago, but we’re making progress,” Barkat said moments after he cut the ribbon with Amal Darwish. Darwish is in charge of 18 other kindergarten classes for special-needs children aged three to six in Beit Hanina.
Barkat bristled at criticism that 400 classrooms over the next few years would not be sufficient to address existing needs in east Jerusalem, much less the high natural growth rate.
“The rate of building [classrooms in east Jerusalem] is without precedent,” Barkat said.
“We won’t stop at 400; the idea is to close the gaps,” he said.
After the dedication, Rivlin told The Jerusalem Post he believed the city needs to build 200 classrooms per year just to keep up with natural growth.
He said if the city can build 400 classrooms per year it will be able to meet the demand for classrooms within five years.
He admitted the plan was unlikely because funding from the Education Ministry is uncertain and must be approved on a yearly basis.
Jerusalem opened the school year with a record-setting 95 sets of twins, including four sets of triplets, started first grade this year in the capital.