Comptroller: Urgent Solution Required for Distance Learning in the Chareidi Sector

YERUSHALAYIM -
israel coronavirus
State Comptroller Matanyahu Engelman. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

In a report released Monday, State Comptroller Matanyahu Engelman raised the findings of an examination of computer infrastructure and distance learning during the coronavirus period. It turns out that there are significant failures in the state’s treatment of all distance learning – with an emphasis on the chareidi public.

The Education Ministry does not possess accurate information mapping out how many computers and internet service packages the nation’s children and schools need to study remotely. Worse,  the report noted, the ministry hasn’t even set a date by which it intends to have such a map.

“The corona pandemic has forced schools to study remotely,” the comptroller said, “and for that they need a suitable infrastructure: a computer and an internet connection, but at least 135,000 – who are not from the chareidi sector – do not have a computer at home, and about 27% of students have no internet access.”

According to the State Comptroller, “there is a great shortage of computers and internet, especially in the chareidi and Arab sectors, and by January 2021, only 50% of the computers that the Education Ministry has ordered will arrive.”

Also, “in almost a quarter of the households that are not chareidi, there is at most one computer,” writes Engelman, “and therefore the children are forced to share it.”

The gaps in information stand out, for example, in response to the question of how many children in the country don’t have computers. The report presents different answers from different sources. The OECD says 6% lack computers. In its answer to the High Court of Justice, the ministry gave a similar answer: between 5.4% to 6.7%. The Knesset Research Center claims it is 16%, the same figure offered by the Arab Education Commission (AEC), which oversees the needs of the Arab-Israeli community. The Central Bureau of Statistics claims the figure is 23.1% (the CBS counts all households in the country, regardless of whether or not young schoolchildren live there).

In Singapore, the comptroller noted, children were limited to only two daily hours of computer usage and parents were given advice on how to divide “computer hours” and how to monitor their progress in school. Other tasks were taught using phones and printed materials.

In Israel, printed materials were distributed as well, but no official body checks if they are effective and no such guidance is offered to parents. The AEC noted that, among Arab-Israeli households with a computer, two-thirds report children fighting over computer usage hours.

Noting that the ministry is unable to offer the country’s children and parents the required means to carry out remote studies during coronavirus, the report warns that it is “required to give answers” if the country is to fulfill its legal obligation of providing children with free public education.