The chareidi school system has grown by 51 percent — in contrast to a substantial decline in the government education system — according to Education Ministry figures appearing in a report by an independent research institute released this week to coincide with the opening of the 5770 school year.
Since Education Ministry data on the burgeoning enrollment numbers at chareidi schools — including girls' schools and seminaries — leave out chareidi institutions that do not receive Ministry funding, the rise in the chareidi student population is actually steeper than these statistics indicate.
According to the figures, which the Taub Institute presented "with great concern," government schools now account for 39% of all students nationwide, compared to 46% in the year 2000. Chareidi and Arab schools, which the institute inexplicably lumps together, account for 48% of total enrollment, compared to 39% in 2000. "Almost every other student in Israel studies in the Arab or chareidi school system," notes the report.
Government schools were the only sector to post decreased enrollment during the past nine years, with a 3% decline. During that same period chareidi enrollment shot up 51%.
"The face of Israel has changed dramatically during the past decade, and the education system must begin to adapt itself accordingly," wrote the authors of the report. "The government sector has weakened, and in the very near future most classrooms in Israel will be occupied by students belonging to the chareidi or Arab sectors. The education they receive must be improved immediately, since the ramifications affect [Israel's] survival."
The 5770 school year opened on Tuesday at Chinuch Atzmai schools, as 75,000 students, kein yirbu, took their seats at Bais Yaakov schools and other institutions around the country. For weeks Chinuch Atzmai officials have been working hard to hammer out the details of the bussing system and to provide classroom space for tens of thousands of school children.
Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Rabbi Moshe Gafni reacted favorably to the figures, saying that despite widespread incitement against chareidi schools, "the chareidi education system is immeasurably better than the secular education system in every parameter assessed — behavior, discipline, scholarship and knowledge. This stems from the fact that the chareidi education system is based on Jewish values, whereas the secular education system has cast off these values. The result is that the secular system has collapsed, compared to [the chareidi system] as well as compared to education systems in other parts of the world."
Rabbi Gafni went on to say, "The blessed growth in the chareidi education system, along with a large segment of "traditional" Jews who have grown weary of the hollowness of [mainstream] education, have led to constant growth in chareidi schools, while the secular system is diminishing. Instead of examining the values boys and girls are taught in Torah-based schools, the ruling establishment is waging battle against it. But there is no way to battle, no way to prevent parents from educating their children the way they choose, especially the way handed down to us from one generation to the next. This education system has succeeded, even from the viewpoint of its opponents."
He also addressed attempts to lump the chareidi and Arab education systems together. "Recently, in the propaganda campaign against chareidi education, efforts have been made to constantly link chareidi education with Arab education, though there is no connection between the two. The Arab education system has its own demographics, whereas chareidi education is Jewish education founded on values and draws a large segment of traditional Jews as well, which is why they [the education establishment] are battling against us."