NGO report demands end to segregation of Ethiopian students

Israel Association of Ethiopian Jews calls for creation of parent-teacher committees, penalties for authorities not encouraging integration.

Education rights for Ethiopians  (photo credit: Tebeka)
Education rights for Ethiopians
(photo credit: Tebeka)
Creating parent-teacher committees, corresponding in their own language and punishing local authorities that do not encourage integration are just some of the suggestions made in a recent report by the Israel Association of Ethiopian Jews to address what it believes is becoming institutionalized segregation of Ethiopian students in the education system.
Submitted recently to the Ministry of Education, the report will be presented Tuesday to the Knesset’s Education, Culture and Sport Committee.
As well as providing statistics on the phenomenon of segregation in schools – a problem widely reported in the media – the IAEJ also outlines some simple solutions to ease and even improve the situation.
“Every time it is reported in the media, there is a discussion about that particular place where it is happening but we want to point out that segregation of Ethiopian students does not only happen in Petah Tikva or Beit Shemesh,” commented Efrat Yerday, spokeswoman of the IAEJ. She was referring to reports last week that 62 out of 68 Ethiopian children in Beit Shemesh are concentrated in only three kindergartens.
Yerday pointed out that in each city where there is a large concentration of Ethiopian immigrant families, the problem differs slightly. In some places it is due to decisions made by the local municipality, elsewhere it is because Israeli parents do not want their children mixed with large numbers of Ethiopian students.
The main issue now, she said, is that such segregation is serving to widen the social, economic and educational gaps between Ethiopians and others students.
Figures collected by the IAEJ show that more than half the country’s 35,884 Ethiopian schoolchildren are enrolled in religious schools, compared to only 17 percent of the general student population. The report also noted that there are more than 10 schools in Israel where the number of Ethiopian pupils is more than 80% of the student body and a further 40 schools where Ethiopians constitute 40%.
“We want parents to be able to make an informed decision about where to send their children to school and for all schools in their area to be open to receiving them,” said Yerday, adding that while the Education Ministry has said it will penalize municipalities that fail to encourage integration, so far, little has been done.
The ministry responded Monday that it firmly believed in a policy of integration with regards to Ethiopian students and highlighted that in recent months Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar had started to close down schools with high concentrations of Ethiopian students.
Giving the example of the Nir Etzion school in Petah Tikva, the ministry said that it was tracking the students that had been transferred to other institutions in order to improve integration and that it was planning to address the issue in other places too.
The episode surrounding the closure of the Nir Etzion School caused controversy last September when it surfaced that the ministry had made a last minute decision to close the schools and transfer students to institutions outside of Petah Tikva to continue their studies.
Parents were furious that their children had been blocked from joining local area schools.
Following the school’s closure, Ethiopian legal rights organization Tebeka filed a High Court Petition against the Education Ministry and the Petah Tikva municipality claiming that nearly 200 of the school’s children were not adequately integrated into the education system in the town. During the court hearing, the ministry committed to ensuring better integration of the students.
In contrast, in Beit Shemesh last week it was revealed by local media that the majority of Ethiopian children had been assigned to only three kindergartens all run by a charity headed by the wife of Mayor Moshe Abutbul.
In his response to the lack of integration, the mayor told Ynet “in an aquarium there are big fish and little fish. First you have to take out the little fish in order to help them grow and stop them from being eaten by the big fish.
That is how we are helping to better prepare Ethiopian children for first grade.”
Tuesday’s Knesset hearing will specifically discuss Beit Shemesh’s failure to adequately integrate the kindergarteners.