Haredi schoolboys receive an education focused solely on Jewish holy texts. Thousands of able-bodied young men are ill-equipped for the job market and have few options aside from full time Torah study. In this bleak situation, the Technion saw the potential for a win-win proposition, says Prof. Arnon Bentur, dean of civil and environmental engineering. "There is a need for professionals in technological fields, and the haredi population needs jobs. We can train them to have marketable skills for a workplace that needs them."
Technion launches engineering program for ultra-Orthodox sector
Graduates will earn a bachelor's degree along with an accredited surveyor's license and a guaranteed job.
Avigayil Kadesh • Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
"I wanted to find a way to earn a living," says Judah (not his real name), a 30-year-old ultra-Orthodox father of three who is studying civil engineering at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
This may sound like a simple and obvious desire. But ultra-Orthodox ("haredi") schoolboys receive an education focused solely on Jewish holy texts. Therefore, thousands of able-bodied young men are ill-equipped for the job market and have few options aside from fulltime Torah study.
In this bleak situation, the Technion saw the potential for a win-win proposition, says Prof. Arnon Bentur, dean of civil and environmental engineering. "There is a need for professionals in technological fields, and the haredi population needs jobs. We can train them to have marketable skills for a workplace that needs them." (More than 25 percent of Israel's first-year schoolchildren are ultra-Orthodox.)
Several years ago, the prestigious institute began offering an 18-month pre-academic crash course to haredi men to get their core science and math skills up to speed. Graduates who qualify can then go on to regular programs at the Technion, as Judah did. "I wasn't sure what I was getting into, but I found I loved math, physics and science," he says, estimating that he began at a sixth-grade level. Now he's in his last year of undergrad studies and wants to continue on for a master's degree.
However, his family is unhappy with his path because it necessitated not only leaving the study hall but also moving out of the ultra-Orthodox community into the more secular Haifa region. Understandably, few haredi men are willing to do so, and that limits severely the number of potential students in the program. And that's why this fall, the institute has launched a new 15-month pre-academic course in the haredi enclave of Bnei Brak outside Tel Aviv.
Studying where they live
"We concluded that if we want to turn around the situation, the place where they study should be close to where they live, because for cultural and family reasons it's difficult to get them away from their communities," says Bentur. "Even just going to study in an academic institution is breaking a barrier for them, and it's much harder if they have to move."
The Technion's Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering set up its new program at the Haredi College in Bnei Brak, a venture of the Israel Council on Higher Education that provides classrooms and administrative infrastructure to bring outside academic programs to the ultra-Orthodox world. Some of the classes will be taught via remote learning.
The three-year degree program following the pre-academic course is based on a unique partnership with the Israeli Mapping Center, a government institution. Graduates will earn a Technion bachelor's degree in mapping and geoinformation along with an accredited surveyor's license and the guarantee of a job with the Israeli Mapping Center. This marks the first time an applied engineering degree is being offered through the Haredi College, and it's especially significant since the Technion is consistently ranked among the world's leading science and technology universities.
Though the existing pre-academic program has shown that haredi men can learn core subjects quickly and successfully, not all of the 90 or so participants in the new pre-academic course will get high enough scores for acceptance into the three-year program in January 2013. "We hope for 25 to make it to Technion standards, and the rest could go on to other [college] programs," says Bentur, who adds that ultra-Orthodox students "know how to learn and put a value on education."
Student recruiting is done through the unit for ultra-Orthodox projects of the Joint Distribution Committee-Israel, as well as the Haredi College. The Technion is working toward raising sufficient scholarship money so that participants can have tuition covered as well as basic living expenses for their families as they earn their degree. "By following these core studies with education for a profession, we will boost Israel's technological sector," Bentur says.
Program organizers also expect that once they enter the workforce, graduates will serve as role models demonstrating that there need not be a contradiction between participation in the workforce and the ultra-Orthodox way of life.