Higher education for haredim
Research has turned up some surprising facts surrounding the importance of various school subjects, and the effect different subjects learned have on ethnic minorities and their integration into the workforce. Certain research studies indicate that studying the local language, particularly verbal reasoning, is more important than studying mathematics or a foreign language.
The students attending our haredi (ultra-Orthodox) campus at the Ono Academic College (in Kiryat Ono, in central Israel) are living proof of these findings. It is very obvious when the haredi students begin their studies that they suffer from a severe disadvantage in math and English skills. On the other hand, their verbal reasoning skills are incredible.
These students manage to bridge the math and English gaps quite well during the course of their studies, and an especially high percentage of them pass the CPA exam (which certifies them to become accountants), which requires quite a bit of quantitative reasoning.
The percentage of haredi students who pass the exam is steady above 90 percent, sometimes reaching 97% and even 100%. The haredi students often get the highest scores and some of them have even won medals for achievement from the Institute of Certified Public Accountants in Israel.
The haredi students’ impressive success in the CPA exam is not the end of the story. After they complete their studies, they go on to excel at accountancy firms, in the Israel Tax Authority and in the business sector. I think that these facts speak for themselves, both in terms of the desire among the haredi public to integrate into the workforce and in terms of the populist debate regarding the absence of core studies from haredi schools.
It would be best to stop blaming the haredi population for its ills – most, if not all, of which are products of misguided fiscal and social policy on behalf of the state – and instead begin encouraging the haredi community to engage in higher learning. This could prove an invaluable step toward integrating the haredim into Israel’s workforce.
As such, the state should begin helping haredim finance higher education. Our institution, the Ono Academic College, is able to provide scholarships to 2,500 students, but the demand among the haredi community far exceeds our capabilities. How long will they continue to wait for an education while listening to demagogues debating their case? Will the state pick up the gauntlet?
It sometimes seems to me that the decision makers and politicians prefer to keep the haredi problem as it is, painful, burning, instead of acting moderately, efficiently and with groundbreaking agreement from all sides.
The writer is the dean of the Ono Academic College Faculty of Business Administration.