Jewish Educational Policy in Palestine Needed Says Dr. Berkson Former Jewish Agency Director of Educ
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Jewish Educational Policy in Palestine Needed Says Dr. Berkson Former Jewish Agency Director of Educ

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The Jewish Agency must adopt a positive policy in education; that should be the first step in putting the Hebrew educational work in Palestine on a sound foundation, Dr. Berkson, till recently head of the Jewish Agency Educational system in Palestine, declared here in the course of an interview with press representatives. When I say that the Jewish Agency has not such a clear policy, he went on, I have reference to both Zionists and non-Zionists. As Dr. Arlosoroff explained at the meeting of representatives of the Yishuv last week, there are differences of opinion on this matter in the Zionist camp itself. According to Dr. Arlosorff, it is particularly among the non-Zionists that there is observable a tendency to uphold the place of education in the programme of the Jewish Agency, while it is rather among the Zionists that a large body of opinion exists which gives preference to the colonisation work. And in this attitude of certain groups in Zionism, I see a danger not only to education, but to the Zionist Movement, as a movement of national renaissance as a whole.

With all the emphasis on the importance of education in the programme of the Jewish Agency, I do not wish to imply that the proprietorship of and the directing authority over the educational system must remain in the hands of the Agency. A clear distinction should be made between the responsibility for the fate of education in Palestine and for adequate financial assistance on the one hand and the present system by which the Jewish Agency takes full responsibility. The responsibility of the Jewish Agency should be strictly defined, and should be held vis-a-vis the Yishuv, as an organised entity, not vis-a-vis individual institutions and teachers. The appropriation of the Jewish Agency to the Yishuv for educational purposes should be sufficiently large to make possible the maintenance of the educational work at a minimum level, but it should be given as one block grant to the institution in the Yishuv charged with the administration of education. This institution should consult the Agency in all matters, but the final decision should rest with the local body. In other words, instead of the Agency, as now, directing education with the help of the Yishuv, the Yishuv should conduct the educational work with the help of the Agency.

I do not share the view of those who believe that the Yishuv has reached the stage where it can bear the burden of education without financial help from the Diaspora. The Yishuv is already making a large contribution to the upkeep of the educational work. Last year, for example, over £P.70,000 were derived from the Yishuv in the form of fees and contributions of the local communities, and about £P.20,000 from the Government. These £P.90,000 constitute over 50 per cent. of the total expenditure on the schools maintained by or affiliated with the Department of Education of the Jewish Agency. To this sum should be added a not inconsiderable expenditure by Jews in Palestine on the maintenance of other schools. In the year 1931-32, the proportion of the Yishuv’s participation will be still higher, but it should be remembered that a large part of the Yishuv is wretchedly poor, the present system of taxation is not designed to extract the maximum from people of means, the local Kehiloth are not yet sufficiently well organised, and that a not inconsiderable part of the Yishuv are in the position of immigrants who have not as yet established themselves.

With the transfer of education to the Yishuv, the income from local sources could probably be increased to some extent; it may be hoped also that in the course of time, Government would increase its participation; but even taking those factors fully into account, I am fully convinced that a long period must elapse before the Yishuv will be able to maintain the educational system even at a minimum level, with its own means. In the final analysis, self-support in education cannot be expected until the Yishuv becomes self-supporting as a whole.

The Jewish Agency must adopt a positive educational policy and accord to education an important place among its activities for the upbuilding of Palestine. It must also define its moral and financial responsibility in regard to education and determine the extent and the form of its participation for a definite number of years. The appropriation must be sufficiently large to ensure, together with a maximum participation by the Yishuv and the Government, a minimum standard of Hebrew education in Palestine.

The proprietorship of the educational system and the final responsibility for its direction should be transferred to the Yishuv. At the same time the Jewish Agency, as the representative of World Jewry, should retain a sufficient measure of influence upon general educational policy. The participation of the Agency should be transmitted to the Yishuv in the form of a grant-in-aid given on conditions that will ensure a minimum educational standard.

The Education Code should be amended in such a manner as to render the administration of education less complicated and less cumbersome; to strengthen the central authority without prejudicing the autonomy of the parties in the internal affairs of the schools; and to afford to parents and adequate measure of participation and influence in the various bodies participating in the direction of an educational system.

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