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Schooling Haves and Have-Nots

June 15, 2012 – 9:00 am42 Comments

Bialik's state of the art swimming pool

By Leonie Ben-Simon

Out. How does one feel to be left out?  Not invited.  Not wanted.  Disenfranchised.

In Galus Australis that is precisely what we have managed to achieve.  We now have nothing but the best schooling for half of our children, leaving poor substitutes for the rest.   I am talking about schooling, Jewish schooling, full-time day school education.  It is a sad fact that more than half a century of community priorities has gone gung-ho into providing beautiful edifices for some children, the children of the decision-makers and their wealthy friends, whilst half a generation of Jewish children are not welcome on financial grounds alone.

This is not a question of whether a few hours of Hebrew and an hour of religious instruction are sufficient in a state school environment.  It is solely a question of the failure of the community as a whole to organise its affairs so that our schools are affordable. Other faiths have done it, but we have failed thousands of our children ­miserably.

As other economies teeter our community is living in a fools’ paradise because we really believe that the status quo with funding will continue for the next ten years, or probably forever.  The time has come to consolidate our own financial resources, to concentrate on the home front before worthy overseas causes and work towards eliminating administrative duplication. It may be that a financial crisis will hit our shores so before we lose any of our resources we should begin, right now. Our schools were not affected as badly during the last recession due to the South African migration.  I cannot see that we have any saviour on the horizon in the immediate future as we did previously, so it would be prudent to pull in our belts now and not later.

There is an international move by universities and tutoring colleges to transfer much of their education online with huge reductions in building and operating costs.  Our schools could partially copy these universities whilst at the same time solving the issue of insufficient quality teaching resources. We could share our valuable Jewish studies and other teachers online throughout all of our Australian schools as the technology is now mature and proven for such a venture, even selling such a service overseas.  This would enable fees to drop, increase enrolments and halt the competition for scarce resources i.e. teachers. It would also enable valuable material to be repeated to each class level year after year.

Every small child who misses out on being a Jewish child from morning till night, who does not live our Jewish calendar or understand our way of life is at risk of being one less family for our Galus.  Even with a poor substitute such as after-school lessons or a state school with Hebrew language immersion, these children know that they have been disenfranchised and feel themselves as second-class citizens, not really in the community. Often they are resentful of anything Jewish with the core of their identity quite different.

Most families under pressure to pay exorbitant school fees will crack at some stage through either missing out on family holidays, having to limit their family size or even having to withdraw children from their school simply because this community has not worked as one group towards making full-time Jewish education possible for all of our children.

I watch as a half-empty Bialik school bus trawls the same route as the Mount Scopus buses, when it could be full.  A logistical nightmare of wasted resources, repeated by multiple administrations in their many forms.  I see Jewish Studies talent being drawn away from one school to another to fill shortages both here and interstate.   I hear of State primary schools with their class lists bursting with Jewish names, of broken-hearted parents not being able to enrol their beloved children in Jewish schools, even though they are working.    I listen to families talking of school fees as “birth control.”  How can so many children be left out?

Is this really a Jewish community?

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