To Integrate Haredim in the Workforce We Must Compromise
“The academic ethos is resilient enough to cope with the threat of gender segregation demanded by the Haredim.” Is integrating the core curriculum in the Haredi education system the only solution?
August 31, 2016
By: Tamar Ariav
Given the high rate of students in the Haredi school system, their future entry into the higher education system and integration of its graduates into the workforce are in Israel's highest socio-economic interest. A necessary condition for this is for their teachers to be skilled and trained to teach them and address their difficulties as students. That is not the situation today. In order for professional teachers with the knowledge, skills and present-day tools for teaching in the 21st century to be effective in helping their students develop the skills they need to function as adults in today’s world, they must themselves study in an appropriate academic environment. The optimal way to deliver such a solution is within an academic campus.
The integration of Haredi students, studying on campus but in separate groups, began at Beit Berl College in the 2013-14 academic year. Last year, the first class of 63 Haredi male students graduated. One of the graduates summarized his experience as follows: "Beit Berl enabled me to access academic material. Where I grew up and went to school I did not have access to a library and computer rooms.”
I am aware of the debate about the risk of undermining the character of academia if classes on campus are held in separate groups for men and women. But I think the academic ethos is resilient enough to cope with the threat of gender segregation demanded by the Haredim. The experience we have gained at Beit Berl College indicates an impressive success, academically, professionally and socially.
I therefore propose we focus on the social-educational-ethical aspect as a basis for a decision to pursue the integrated model of the Council for Higher Education (CHE) and the Planning and Budgeting Committee (PBC), according to which Haredim study in separate groups on academic campuses, and terminate or significantly reduce the conservative model of studies on separate campuses.
Since the most significant variable in promoting students' learning is the quality of teachers, the academization of Haredi teachers is a necessary although insufficient condition for improving the level of Haredi education. Without adequate academic and professional training of teachers in the Haredi education system, there will be no one to teach the core curriculum in that system, even if agreement to that effect is reached. Therefore, including training for the teaching and educational professions in the PBC's policy priorities is of the utmost importance.
The realization of the PBC's policy on this subject reflects an important value that characterizes pluralistic societies along with acceptance and respect for others, tolerance of the complexity of clashing narratives, and a thoughtful response to sensibilities that contradict the rational-formalistic thinking typical of many academics.
The struggle to introduce the core curriculum into the Haredi education system is valuable and important but is caught in the crossfires of political power struggles and coalition agreements, as we have seen recently. In this reality, it is doubtful whether it is realistic to demand students in Haredi education be provided with vital contents and skills as a condition for their access to higher education. The practical path to dealing with some of those deficiencies is to train highly-educated teachers in a real academic environment and not in an inferior quasi-academic one. If the integration of the Haredi population in the workforce is indeed a paramount, socio-economic need of Israel, then this population must be allowed into the higher education system in such a way that is considerate of its needs and unique character.
A constructive approach to integrating Haredim in academia based on compromise is preferable to a rigid insistence on principles. The model we developed at Beit Berl College – studying on campus, maintaining academic standards, a willingness to make concessions on gender, an ongoing dialogue with the students and an attempt to find ad hoc solutions – has proven itself. This approach offers hope that, through our mutual experience with the Haredi students and through dialogue and mutual trust-building, we will be able to break through boundaries that presently seem un-breachable. This approach will also reduce anxieties, which are not unfounded, among the academic faculty.
The author is the President of Beit Berl College.