Regardless of the current global financial crisis, economists and educators warn that the cycle of poverty in Israel is expected to expand even further, due to the Education Ministry's failure to enforce core curriculum on ultra-Orthodox schools.
Several years ago, the High Court has instructed the ministry to include in the curriculums of all sectors several basic classes – math, English, science, citizenship education, history and bible studies – as a precondition for government funding.
However, prior to the opening of the current school year, the haredi parties managed to persuade the Education Ministry to support legislation that allows haredi schools not to teach those subjects while continuing to receive funding from the State.
Twenty percent of all haredim are poor, although they make up only 10% of the population in the country.
Experts are now warning that the failure to enforce a core curriculum on parts of the student population will lead to a situation in which in several years- time tens of thousands of young haredi people will graduate from schools when they are ill-equipped to integrate into the employment market. Those young people will be doomed to a life of poverty and become a burden on taxpayers.
'Education Ministry perpetuating ignorance'Dr. Daniel Gottlieb, a senior Bank of Israel economist and a lecturer in Ben Gurion University, says that the fact that 60% of all Arabs and ultra-Orthodox in Israel live under the poverty line is linked in part to shortcomings in the education system.
He says that haredi education prevents graduates, mainly men, from integrating into the workforce. "Students, and particularly boys in the elementary school system are deprived of skills that are essential to producing adults able to provide for themselves."
According to Gottlieb, poverty in haredi society could worsen with the disappearance of industries based on low education and low skills workers and the growing demand for academics.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Israel Religious Action Center claims that the new legislation discriminates against haredi students who are deprived of the right to a basic curriculum that would provide them with the general education needed to become a part of society.
"The Education Ministry sentences tens of thousands of haredi students to a life of poverty and is perpetuating ignorance. Only a few would be able to set themselves free of the cycle of poverty.
'Deprived of elementary education' (Illustration photo: Dudi Vaknin)
"Theses students will not study citizenship education, and this, in turn, will increase the rift, alienation and conflict in Israeli society. When they don't study citizenship and history, how can we expect them to sympathize with the principles of democracy?"
Zion Gabay, director-general of Elem, an organization that helps youth at risk in Israel, added that the high dropout rates in high schools in the haredi, Arab and immigrant sectors illustrate the severity of the situation
"Not all haredi youths can continue studying in high school yeshivas, and so a high percentage drops out of the education system entirely and they wander the streets aimlessly or gather to drink alcohol," he explained.
The solution for these alarming data, says Dr. Gottlieb, lies in a fundamental change in the curriculum of haredi schools, for boys and girls alike.