A new study by Shoresh Institution indicates that Haredi parents as well as Arab Israelis may be choosing to register their children in non-Haredi religious and secular schools to ensure they study core curriculum subjects, to safeguard their children’s economic independence and ability to work in a competitive economy.
Data collected by Shoresh shows that while in the years 2000-2009 Haredi enrollment in first grade increased by 4.2 percent a year, enrollment in religious schools rose 1.2% a year, while the rate was 0.3% in the secular schools in the same period. The kids enrolled in these years were born between 1994 and 2003, and the annual changes in enrollment reflect the difference in these groups, the report said.
However, Haredi birth rates began falling in 2003, though they still remained far above those of other religious Jews and of course higher than birth rates among secular Jews.
Despite the differences in birth rates, annual changes in first grade enrollment since 2009 have been nearly identical for all three groups, the report said. In light of the differences in fertility between these groups, it is “likely that many Haredim now register their children in non-Haredi religious schools.”
“One of our particularly interesting findings seems to indicate that many Haredi parents are beginning to understand what their leadership does not,” Prof. Dan Ben-David, the author of The Shoresh Handbook, Education and its Impact on Israel, said by email. “While the politicians and rabbis continue to insist that their schools not teach a core curriculum, there appears to have been a major shift in how a large number of Haredi parents perceive the importance of the core curriculum.” And all of this is happening “below the public radar.”
“While Haredi fertility rates continue to be much higher than those of religious Jews, percent increases in first grade enrolment in Haredi schools have been identical to those of the religious Jewish schools since 2009,” he said. “Apparently, a large number of Haredi parents have begun to enroll their children in non-Haredi religious schools that offer a core curriculum so that their children will have better employment opportunities as adults than their parents had.”
First graders in 2009 are children born in 2003, right after the massive cuts in welfare that induced many Israelis to enter the labor market for the first time in their lives, he explained. “It is quite possible that the shock of their ill-preparedness led more than a few parents to ensure that their children have a better start when they grow up.”
A similar pattern appears to have been developing among Muslim Arabs who have increasingly entered the middle class and desire a better education for their children than is currently given in Muslim schools, he added. “As a result, many have begun to register their children in Arab Christian schools – which are substantially better – and in Jewish schools in the mixed cities.”
Even so, the report said, the populations in Israel that are growing the fastest — the Haredi and the Muslims — are also those that are still receiving the worst education, and roughly half of Israel’s children are receiving a Third World education.
The quality of education Israeli children receive will “determine the country’s future,” the report said.
Though Israel may seem to be one of the world’s most educated countries in the work, the qualitative level of its education is one of the worst in the developed world, because the focus is placed on quantity of years studied, rather than on quality, the report said. While the relationship between years of schooling and economic growth is weak, there exists a very strong link between education quality and growth.
In addition, Israel, with one of the highest number of years of schooling per person in the developed world, is also a country with one of the lowest productivity levels and the highest poverty rates. Israel’s economy is doing better than most and its academic institutions are state of the art, the report said. This economic and academic prosperity just needs to reach all corners of society.
“The issue of fixing Israel’s education system is primarily one of removing blinders that confuse wishful thinking and fantasy with actual evidence — and finding the political werewithal and leadership to implement the necessary changes.”
“Israel faces existential danger of losing it all if it does not wake up in time to understand the perils of its current trajectory,” the report said.
The Shoresh Institution is an independent policy research institution.