At the beginning of this scholastic year, the Greek Orthodox School “Bishop Timotheos” in Kufur Yasif was shut down by the Ministry of Education as it did not supply the license needed to operate. A year ago, the Mar Elias School in Daboria, established by the Greek Catholic Bishop Elias Shackor, was shut down for the same reason. It seems that the decision to disallow the operation of these schools is in keeping with the opposition of the ministers of education over the last few years to schools that are “recognized but not official “, especially those that are Christian.
Christian schools have existed in this country for decades, and some of them were founded before the establishment of this state. Because of their religious beliefs and the special place that this holy land has in their eyes, many Christian churches and institutions from Europe and America established tens of schools for the service and benefit of the locals. This allowed for the education of the Arab population in general and for the Christians in particular, especially during the years that the education system in the land was not so developed.
The Christian schools continued to operate and develop, they kept the tradition of success and they built upon it. Presently, the academic level among Christian Arabs in this country is the highest in all sectors of the population, and this is in great measure due to the work of the Christian schools. Educational institutions like St. Joseph Seminary and the Baptist School in Nazareth or the Arab Orthodox College in Haifa and others are found on every list of leading schools nationwide that is published by the Ministry of Education, based on every criterion.
The churches that founded schools have saved this country for years from having to build and maintain the necessary buildings. They also save the state huge sums on a regular basis, since these schools are only partially funded by the state, with the rest being funded by tuition fees and donations from abroad. Moreover, persecution of the Christian schools would bring upon Israel unnecessary anger from the churches in Europe and the United States.
Indeed, these schools started their journey as small denominational schools that mainly served the Christian persuasion, but in the last few years they have begun to enjoin students from other religions, and that number has grown. Currently, the percentage of Muslim students has outgrown that of Christian students in many of these schools. This integration is important, not just for the Arab sector, but also for the state – it contributes to forming an open and healthy society.
Many of the Christian schools in Israel are still managed by clergymen who promote the values of love for others, co-existence, respect and tolerance, and this should be encouraged and their status should not be undermined. Due to the considerable achievements on a national level of a number of Christian schools, a healthy competition has been born among them, so that each Principal tries to promote his school by means of new programs that enrich the lives of the students, and the results are blessed.
The main claim against Christian schools is that they are selective and draw the best students, at the expense of the government schools. In our opinion, the solution lies not in harming this magnificent enterprise, but in encouraging the competition and in pushing the government schools to learn from the years of experience of the Christian schools. The sense of ownership and autonomous management of these schools are part of the ingredients for their success, and they deserve special attention from the Ministry of Education, rather than a desire to limit them and bring them into the melting pot of government schools.
The state raised the banner of pluralism in the education system and in its citizens’ rights to teach their children according to their own world view. In the name of these values it founded public religious schools and acknowledged the existence of schools of the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish sector (Haredi) schools, who receive exaggerated benefits. A discriminatory attitude towards Christian schools that teach the core subjects and whose graduates excel in the matriculation exams should not be taken. Restricting these schools, which are firmly rooted in this land and are a success story, by preventing the opening of new such schools, despite the fact that their existence is a blessing and an element of improvement for the clumsy and tired mechanism of the Ministry of Education, is like shooting ourselves in the foot.
The author is a lawyer and General Director of the Nazareth Baptist School.
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