The most recent Bimat Mandel forum, which took place at the Mandel Leadership Institute (MLI) on November 25, 2013, dealt with the integration of children from Ethiopian immigrant families into Israel’s school system. Participants included MK Amram Mitzna, chair of the Knesset’s Education Committee; MK Shimon Solomon (Yesh Atid party); and Dalit Stauber, former director general of the Ministry of Education, along with key figures from the education system, local government, schools, and academia.
The evening opened with cohort 21 of the Mandel School for Educational Leadership (MSEL) presenting the product of their group exercise: a paper aimed at examining why - despite the many resources that the State of Israel has invested, and continues to invest, in integrating students of Ethiopian origin - substantial gaps still exist between their scholastic achievements and those of the general population in the Jewish school system.
The paper focuses on three primary areas: Ethiopian pupils’ identity, the importance of the parents’ role in children’s absorption into the school system, and the need to enhance the language skills of Ethiopian students as a basis for successful integration. Each of these aspects was discussed together with theoretical background and measures were recommended to improve the integration of children of Ethiopian origin into the school system.
Bimat Mandel 25-11-2013
On the subject of identity, the fellows wrote: “We wish to propose a change in this area, whereby Ethiopian identity based on culture of origin is seen as a significant asset for proper integration of Ethiopian students into Israeli society in general and the school system in particular...on the firm assumption that only an individual who experiences respect for the richness of his specific culture can be an independent and complete adult.” The paper recommends cultivating multiculturalism in schools and reinforcing the connection between the school setting and the home by creating multicultural spaces in the school where each child will be given the opportunity to express the culture, customs and language of his home.
On the role and importance of parents, the fellows wrote: “Numerous studies conducted in recent decades in Israel and abroad point to the clear impact of parental involvement on children’s achievements and functioning at school, with regard to such issues as attendance, adjustment, behavior, social skills, self-esteem, motivation, and of course achievement.” Accordingly, they suggest that efforts be focused on building trust between parents and the school system and that parents be viewed as important partners. In keeping with the above, they recommend initiating joint parent-school projects and setting up programs and workshops with parental participation.
Concerning the importance of language skills, the report states: “Our premise is that pedagogy focused on developing language skills and literacy is an essential component of scholastic success and of overcoming learning gaps stemming from the immigration process. When children learn a language, they are not involved merely in one form of learning but are acquiring the foundation of learning itself.” The recommendation of the fellows is to reinforce the mother tongue of children from the Ethiopian community in light of the many studies showing that strengthening mother tongue literacy is vital to developing literacy in a second language. Boosting the first language would be accomplished by adding classroom hours for teaching literacy in elementary schools, and transforming the classroom into a literacy space, which would include a well-stocked library and a reading area.
The first speaker was Dr. Eli Gottlieb, director of MLI, who described the exercise and complimented the fellows on their modesty in writing the paper. He noted that the report refrained from grandiose recommendations while making concrete proposals with courage and sensitivity.
Danny Bar Giora, director of MSEL, expanded on the goals of the exercise, which was part of a larger encounter with educational issues in Israel. The project introduced the fellows to leading figures in the field of education, and in turn offered an opportunity for those working in the field to get to know the fellows. Bar Giora praised the fellows for their choice of subject, which made the students the focus of the exercise.
Dalit Stauber remarked, on a lighter note, that the exercise may have dealt with “only” two issues - integration in general, and into the school system specifically - but that these are two of the most important issues faced by all students, and immigrants from Ethiopia in particular.
MK Amram Mitzna touched on the difficulties confronting large systems such as the education system in implementing an immigrant absorption policy. In his view, despite the fact that the system is full of initiatives and good will on the part of all involved, the results are not always satisfactory. Among the reasons for this is the lack of a single entity that handles all aspects of absorption. Each of the different bodies - social welfare, immigration, education - works in its own limited framework, and there is no exchange of information or data among them. This is why the education system is still unsuccessful in closing the gaps between students from the Ethiopian community and the remainder of the population, despite the vast array of tools and resources.
The evening concluded with a panel consisting of MK Shimon Solomon, chair of the lobby for higher education for Ethiopian immigrants; Maya Sharir, director of the Education Ministry’s Division for the Absorption of New Immigrant Students; and Lily Hajaj, principal of the Tzippori school in Bat Yam.