'Severe lack of schools for Kfar Aqab students'

Community leaders tell J'lem mayor Barkat that area with 15,000 Arab students has 2 public schools.

Palestinian schoolchildren (R370) (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
Palestinian schoolchildren (R370)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
Jerusalem has just two public schools for approximately 15,000 Arab students who live outside of the separation barrier but within the municipality borders, community leaders told mayor Nir Barkat on Monday.
The meeting, examining at-risk youth in east Jerusalem, focused on comparing overall figures and determining the success of current pilot programs for youths at risk of dropping out.
“No one is dealing with these students,” said community leader Abu Ashraf, who represented parents from Kfar Aqab, Semiramis, Zughayer and Atarot.
Sixty thousand Arabs, most of whom have Jerusalem residency, live in four neighborhoods that are part of municipal Jerusalem, but are located on the West Bank-side of the security barrier in an area roughly the size of the Old City.
Lara Mbariki, the municipality’s director of the Arab educational system in east Jerusalem, acknowledged that most students are forced to go to unofficial schools, sometimes run by the Palestinian Authority.
“All the construction there is without permits, so the municipality can’t rent a building for a school,” she said. “There are no sports fields because there are no building master plans plans so they can’t build anything.”
Abu Ashraf complained to the mayor that students were crowded into private schools who were more interested in making money than providing a decent education, but parents had no other choices.
“It’s true that there’s a very high competition among private schools who are trying to make money and we have no choice but to allow it,” said Mbariki.
Barkat acknowledged that there are significant problems in those areas and said he would examine ways to address them.
Concerned parents from east Jerusalem also pressured Barkat to open more after-school programs to keep children occupied after school and out of trouble.
East Jerusalem has a staggering 40 percent drop-out rate.
Many female students drop out because they wed before they complete 12th grade and the male students drop out to go to work. Barkat said he would focus his efforts on tenth grade, which he deemed a critical year for students. Those who finish 10th grade successfully are more likely to finish high school, he said.
City Councilor Meir Margalit (Meretz) who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio, challenged Mayor Nir Barkat to accept financial help from the Palestinian Authority and other Arab organizations to run after-school programs for at-risk Arab youth.
“I remember growing up in Argentina, how the Jewish Agency helped [the Jewish community] with after-school programs and their effect on me,” Margalit said. “We need to ask the PA to be our partner to help fund these programs.”
Barkat said that he would not turn down any financial assistance but had not received any offers from Arab organizations.