Sa'ar: New bagrut regulations will help Haredi women work

Education Minister allows alternative test taken by haredi women to qualify as "bagrut" exam.

Jewish students studying 521 (photo credit: Reuters)
Jewish students studying 521
(photo credit: Reuters)
Recognition of an alternative test taken by haredi women as a bagrut matriculation exam will help them enter the workforce and Israeli institutes of higher education, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud) said on Thursday.
According to the decision announced by Sa’ar on Tuesday, the English section of Szold Institute’s test will count for the same as three units of English classes in the non-haredi schools and the test’s general history and history of the Land of Israel sections will count toward two general history credits.
Average math and language scores will also count as equal to math and Hebrew credits on the bagrut exam. The students who take the Szold test, who number some 4,500 annually according to Education Ministry figures, will still need to take supplementary courses before enrolling in an Israeli university however.
According to a statement released by the Education Ministry, the plan will “create an opening for the acquisition of continued education or professional training and will remove barriers from the workforce” for haredi women.
The decision will apply retroactively to every female graduate in the past ten years.
“In the Israeli society, we can either choose between baseless conflict in a culture war or efforts to build a shared life,” Sa’ar said, when asked on Thursday what led to the decision.
Sa’ar said the decision will not lower educational or testing standards, and referred to it as “simply a solution that is outside of the box.”
The minister said that he had initially hoped to take steps that would make the Szold test equal in content and weight to the bagrut exam, but that he realized that it is impossible because of ideological issues in the haredi community, and because of the community’s desire to differentiate itself from the secular society.
“The question is whether or not the secular society worsens this differentiation by not recognizing the test.”
When asked why the haredi education system as a whole is not forced to take the same bagrut exam as the secular society, he said such a solution would be doomed to fail, and that “the time has come to find solutions that will help them integrate into the workforce.”
Critics on Wednesday bashed the ministry’s decision.
“Are we the same country and do we have the same rules for everyone? This is at best a mistake and at worst a fraud,” said Prof. Dan Ben-David, the executive director of the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies.
“Why are they even in this situation to begin with? Why are they looking for all types of ways to maneuver in order to launder their education? Basically they want the same degrees without the same education,” Ben-David added.
The professor added that it should be Israel’s goal to have one single matriculation exam for all students.
Shahar Ilan, the vice president of research and information for Hiddush, an organization for the promotion of religious tolerance, said on Wednesday he was disappointed by the announcement.
“They will only receive three units of English, three units of mathematics? We’re talking about women, many of whom will go on to be accountants or work on computers,” he said.
Ilan said that while the decision will help many haredi women enter the workforce more easily, it is insufficient in that it leaves them in need of taking a supplementary “mechina” exam before entering university.
“We’re in favor of finding a matriculation exam that respects their beliefs,” he said, but added that the Szold exam was formed in order to prevent haredi women from receiving the education and work preparation they need, and the decision made by the Education Ministry will now put an official stamp of approval on that system.
Also on Thursday, an Education Ministry spokeswoman denied a report that Sa’ar has decided to cut units from the bagrut exam, saying that he has merely appointed a committee to examine ways to trim the content of the exam.