On Forecasts and Reality in the Education System – and the Danger of a Take-Over by Haredi Education

From time to time we hear rumblings about the increasing share of the Haredi sector in the education system. There are those who are already claiming that by the year 2049 they will be 50% of the Jewish education system. I suggest to all of those who write such forecasts and angry prophecies to bring the rhetoric down a notch.

Forecasts related to societal trends in general, and education system trends in particular, often turn out to be faulty. The problem is not so much a lack of knowledge or professionalism on the part of those making the projections. The problem lies mostly with the underlying assumption – in the absence of an ability to foresee unexpected changes – of business as usual.

To demonstrate, in 2007 the Central Bureau of Statistics published a pupil projection that included the distribution of Jewish education by supervisory streams. According to those projections, by 2013 the portion of first grade pupils in the Haredi education stream would be 29% of all pupils in the Jewish sector, and by 2015, by the same trend, the figure would be 30%. In practice, the portion of Haredi pupils has been a constant 25% since 2010. A difference of 5% in an eight-year forecast is a quite substantial.

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When you prepare a forecast of pupils and their distribution by different supervisory streams, you rely on current fertility rates in the various sectors as well as on established distribution trends in State, State-religious and Haredi education. But any change in fertility rates or in parents’ inclinations can turn the projection on its head. Apparently, this is what happened in those years in Israel: among the secular population the fertility rate rose while the fertility rate among the Haredi population declined.

The data that we have indicate some interesting facts about the subject of the strengthening of Haredi education (as well as the State-religious education). In an analysis that we conducted for the years 2000 to 2014, it appears that over time and over all levels of education, the movement between supervisory streams is very limited (between 1% and 2% at most). We are speaking about a few hundred pupils, or maybe a few thousand pupils at the most, so that it basically has little significance. Nevertheless, in almost every year and at every level of education (and especially in the move from kindergarten to first grade), more pupils moved from Haredi education to State education than in the opposite direction. Moreover, if you consider the move from Haredi education to State-religious education at the primary school level or higher to be an indication of a family becoming less religious, and the move from State education to State-religious education to be an indication of becoming more religious, then the number of those loosening their religious ties greatly exceeds the number of those returning to the faith. Keep in mind, though, that the significance of a 1% change from State education to Haredi education is more pupils in absolute numbers than the 2% that move from Haredi to State education. Nevertheless, as was indicated previously, the overall movement from Haredi education to State education over all the years is greater than in the other direction.

The most notable move is from kindergarten to first grade. If we relate to the distribution of first grade pupils as representative of the relevant age cohort, then the share of those leaving Haredi and State-religious education for State schools is much greater than those leaving State schools for Haredi or State-religious ones.

This being the case, the figures in the table below show a slightly different picture than that one might get from the highly publicized reports in the media.

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This should not detract, though, from the central and immediate problem facing the Israeli education system: more than 45% of pupils (today, although the near and distant future are certainly not clear) are Arab Israelis and Haredim – two population groups with the following main characteristics:

  1. Socioeconomic backgrounds that place them among the weakest in Israeli society;
  2. Difficulties among the Arab population in identifying with the State of Israel as a Jewish state, and difficulties among the Haredi population in identifying with the State as a democratic one.

In light of this, it is advisable to those in positions of authority in the education system – and to whoever cherishes the future – to focus on these basic problems, and not on false prophecies.

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