Ethiopian Immigrant Group Charges Educational Neglect

Misguided Israeli educational policies are “steadily transforming Ethiopian immigrants into a black underclass,” according to a report just published by the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews.

Titled “Creating an Underclass: How Israel’s Educational System is Failing Immigrant Youth,” the report accuses the government of providing substandard education to Ethiopian immigrants and of segregating them from other Israelis.

Although acknowledging that many officials in the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Education and Absorption ministries have made “heroic efforts” to help Ethiopian olim succeed, the association charges the government with educational neglect.

The report, compiled four years after the Operation Solomon airlift brought 14,400 Ethiopian Jews to Israel, is submitted “A Call to Action.”

The report states that “while the problems posed by inadequate housing and job prospects are well-known, the most critical obstacle to the absorption of the Ethiopian community is the education system.”

The Ministry of Education rejected the report as biased.

Ministry spokesman youngsters, but such biased reports add nothing to the solution of such problems.”

“This report was written without any consultation with the ministry,” Amishav said. “It gives a black-and-white picture, which has no connection with reality.”

“Just last week, we were happy to integrate the first group of Ethiopian teachers into the Israeli education system. This is just one example of what is being done in Ethiopian education,” the ministry official said.

Noting that some 50 percent of Ethiopian adults are unemployed, the report says, “For the Ethiopian community, education is the only avenue to social mobility and a critical key to the future.”

The education system, the report concludes, “has only contributed to a vicious circle of poverty, unemployment and juvenile delinquency.”

As proof, the report finds that only 7 percent of Ethiopian 12th-graders received a matriculation certificate in 1994 – the lowest showing of any ethnic group in Israel.

In contrast, 14 percent of Israeli Arabs, 40 percent of Israeli Jews, 50 percent of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and more than 80 percent of middle- and upper-middle-class students passed the exam.

According to the report, much of the problem stems from educational segregation.

At the kindergarten level, nearly 50 percent of all Ethiopians are enrolled in segregated schools, many located in caravan sites throughout Israel.

And in elementary school, Ethiopian children are often sent to the weakest schools in the country. Between 15 percent and 20 percent of all Ethiopian second-to fifth-graders are illiterate, according to the report.

Once they turn 12 or 13, more than 90 percent of Ethiopians are sent to Jewish Agency Youth Aliyah boarding schools, which also cater to “problem” youths.

Of these, the vast majority are placed on vocational tracks orb in scaled-down academic programs that do not lead to full matriculation.

This “massive uprooting,” the report charges, “has dealt a devastating blow to the community’s family structure, with broad implications for the future.”

One consequence has been the “burgeoning phenomenon of juvenile delinquency,” which was “previously unheard of in the Ethiopian community.”

Summing up the situation, the association offered a number of recommendations: * To end segregation, Ethiopian children should be offered the opportunity to attend schools in neighboring towns, villages or kibbutzim. * Parents should be involved in their children’s educational progress through special programs. * After-school enrichment programs should be developed for every Ethiopian child in need. * The Ministry of Education and the Jewish Agency should devise plans to ensure, within five years, that the percentage of Ethiopian students matriculating from high school equals the national average.

“Barring a substantial transformation of the current educational conditions for Ethiopian students, all avenue of social mobility will be closed off to this community,” the report warns.

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