Core of the Core Curriculum: Chewed up, Spit out

Ministry of Education delays implementation of Core Curriculum in ultra-Orthodox schools

Despite a 2013 Knesset Law, promoted by the Yesh Atid Party, which required all state funded schools to teach core curricular studies, Minister of Education Shay Piron (a senior member of the Yesh Atid Party) delayed its implementation until well past the next Israeli elections... and Hiddush publicly exposed it.

MK Shay PironMK Shay Piron

In early November, Hiddush Vice President Shahar Ilan publicly exposed Minister of Education and senior member of the Yesh Atid Party Rabbi Shai Piron’s decision not to enforce the required inclusion of core curricular studies in ultra-Orthodox schools, despite the Ministry’s public promises in the past to do so. “Teaching the core subjects is the State's condition; while these are private institutions which cannot be told what to teach, there is no reason for me to fund them either," the Minister said in a 2013 interview (link). "The State cannot fund something that goes against its interests."

A 2013 Knesset law required ultra-Orthodox schools to incorporate nine hours weekly of core curricular studies, gradually increasing to eleven hours weekly by the 2016-17 school year. Devastatingly, the new 2014 Arrangements Law pushes off this wonderful progress in ultra-Orthodox education – until well past the next elections when a new governing coalition may revoke the core curriculum requirement entirely. (link, Hebrew)

Historically, mathematics, science, English and civics have not been taught in ultra-Orthodox classrooms in Israel. This is largely because of political horse trading, which has provided ultra-Orthodox schools with state funding without requiring that they teach the core-curriculum, which they oppose and shield their male students from (female students study key elements of the core-curricular studies, recognizing that it is essential for them to be able to find work so as to provide for their families).

These students have been virtually unable to enter any well paying positions in the job market, and hardly any positions beyond their ultra-Orthodox communities, resulting in an entire population adopting a lifestyle dependent upon state welfare. The vast education gaps between ultra-Orthodox schools and the rest of Israel’s Jewish school system prevent students from successful participation in society, stunt the state’s potential economic growth, and damage the country's social fabric. This claim is shared and expressed by all of Israel’s leading economic scholars. (link).

MK Dov LipmanMK Dov Lipman

In December 2013, MK Rabbi Dov Lipman of the Yesh Atid Party, himself a graduate of ultra-Orthodox yeshivas, addressed the Knesset with findings relating to the ultra-Orthodox community from the 2013 Taub Center State of the Nation Report (link). Among the statistics, Rabbi Lipman shared that 71% of ultra-Orthodox Israeli men with academic degrees found work, compared to only 34% of those without degrees. Further, according to the report, the average salary for ultra-Orthodox men with academic degrees was 80% higher than that of those without. Unfortunately, less than 8% of ultra-Orthodox men between the ages of 25 and 44 have academic degrees.

According to the Knesset’s own website (link), the Arrangements Law has been subject to fierce criticism within the Knesset and among the public because it is processed rapidly and does not allow Knesset Members to thoroughly examine its contents and take a stand on its issues. Furthermore, the time spent on the Arrangements Law – some two months – is insufficient to discuss and/or amend legislation that was already passed following months or years of effort – like the 2013 law requiring the implementation of the core curriculum in all Israeli schools.

Head of Hiddush Rabbi Uri Regev responded that it is difficult to fully articulate the damage that delaying the implementation of the core curriculum in ultra-Orthodox schools will cause young ultra-Orthodox men, as well as Israel's economy and future. "The decision,” noted Rabbi Regev, “to enforce the core curriculum in ultra-Orthodox institutions and reduce state funding of those that do not teach English and mathematics was perhaps the most significant and promising reform that the Yesh Atid Party implemented since entering Prime Minister Netanyahu’s governing coalition. State funding for schools that refused to teach general studies and prepare students for the job market were intended to have been reduced this year.”

Governments cannot act out of fear of their citizens forever. If Israel doesn't do this right now, it will become a sickened society. If government does not enforce the state's laws, citizens will begin to disregard the rule of law and Israeli civil society will be destroyed.

“Instead,” Regev stated, “the Ministry has pushed off the implementation of this education reform unto the next government, just as the Yesh Atid Party did with the conscription law, which requires ultra-Orthodox men to serve the state like all other citizens. This is a hollow ‘core’. The significance of the delay, made in secret for obvious reasons, is clear: implementation of the core curriculum has been nullified, education in the ultra-Orthodox sector will continue to be mired in ignorance, Israeli’s economy will sustain severe, avoidable damage, and another fatal blow has struck the public’s confidence in the political system.”

The Education Ministry responded that the funding sanctions upon ultra-Orthodox schools demanded by the law were impractical, and would push the schools into the hands of ultra-Orthodox extremist elements. They also explained that there weren’t enough trained educators in the ultra-Orthodox community qualified to teach the core curricular courses. Rabbi Piron therefore delayed the law’s implementation, deciding not to fulfill his repeated promises to incorporate the core curriculum into the ultra-Orthodox school system. Sadly, this was the same Minister Piron who had once been ready to fight the ultra-Orthodox establishment, saying, “If somebody tells me that ‘adding math to Torah studies constitutes blasphemy,’ I will set up special afternoon study centers. The goal is to reach an agreement on the matter of the core curriculum, but if failing that, a difficult battle is expected.

The words of Hiddush’s Chairman Stanley Gold ring now as true as ever (link): “Governments cannot act out of fear of their citizens forever. If Israel doesn't do this right now, it will become a sickened society. If government does not enforce the state's laws, citizens will begin to disregard the rule of law and Israeli civil society will be destroyed. The burden on the productive sector of Israeli society will become so large that people will begin to leave the country. Those people who are leaving are the professors at Columbia and University of Chicago. Those are the exact people we need in Israel.”

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