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Wednesday, 31 October 2007

IRAC Fights for Education Reform

IRAC Fights for Education Reform
The issue of state funded education and the "Core Curriculum" is one of
the most compelling issues on IRAC's advocacy and legal agenda today.
Although Ultra-Orthodox schools receive at least 55% of the total
national education budget, they are exempt from teaching the most basic
skills which every state has a duty to teach its children. This
literally means that tens of thousands of Israel's youth don't know
basic mathematics, science and civic studies. Within less than 10 years
we are talking about a significant percentage of the population not
knowing how to calculate change in a grocery store or who was Isaac
Newton! The IRAC staff is working on numerous fronts - legal, media, and
advocacy - to make sure that all Israeli schools receiving government
funds teach the State Core Curriculum.
Background: The Israeli education system is divided into a public school
system (secular and religious), and a private school system
(ultra-orthodox, Christian, Muslim, and democratic and experimental
schools). Private schools are funded by the state at the rate of 55% -
75% of public schools. However, funding for all schools is conditioned
on teaching the core curriculum (Math, Science, Hebrew, English, Civic
studies, Physical Education). The requirement for core curriculum rests
on two grounds:
1. Providing all children in the education system the necessary skills,
that will be indispensable for them to function as productive adults. 2.
Providing a "common ground" for all Israelis, who will share common
values (with an emphasis on the values of democracy and freedom), and
thus will be able to co-exist in a divided and sectarian society such as
Israel.
For years, the Ultra Orthodox schools did not teach the core curriculum,
but rather religious studies. In 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that
funding such schools is illegal, and ordered the Ministry of Education
to apply the core curriculum in all schools, as a condition for funding,
until September 1, 2007.
IRAC's Response: When the current school year neared, and it was clear
the Education Ministry is violating the court ruling, IRAC submitted a
petition to the High Court, demanding that the core curriculum be
applied on all schools.
In response, the State did not contradict the fact that it did
absolutely nothing to apply the court ruling, but rather suggested to
change the current legal situation. Since the Ultra-Orthodox sector is
unwilling to teach secular studies, from now on all Ultra-Orthodox high
schools (in which 25,0000 students study) will be exempt under law from
teaching the State Core Curriculum. On September 25th our case was heard
before the court and the Court ordered the State to submit a full
response to our petition within 60 days.
IRAC is now launching a campaign to create a media "buzz" around the
issue and raise public awareness of the law and its implications.
Furthermore, IRAC intends to assemble a group of influential policy and
opinion makers in opposition to the law who will circulate petitions and
other public measures to compel the decision makers to realize that
giving a broad exemption to a whole sector signifies the end of Israeli
solidarity, and will result in thousands of kids who will not be able to
support themselves or be contributing members to the society.
IRAC, like much of the Israeli public, believes that this reckless
exemption of the Ultra-Orthodox education institutions from the duty to
teach life skills and basic civic values in the students produces a
substantial danger to the future of the Israeli society.
Contributors to this story: Orly Erez-Likhovski, Esq., Rita Konaev,
Rachel Canar, and Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Esq.

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