How much religious education is too much and how much secular education is too little? Haredi schools in Zurich, Switzerland are about to find out the government's thoughts on this matter, and those thoughts could dramatically change haredi education in Switzerland.
How much religious education is too much and how much secular education is too little?
Haredi schools in Zurich, Switzerland are about to find out the government's thoughts on this matter, and those thoughts could dramatically change haredi education in Switzerland.
The Neue Zürcher Zeitung reports (translation courtesy of our source, D.O., with some minor edits by me for clarity) :
How much faith should be allowed in the classroom?
Around 500 children are taught in Orthodox Jewish schools [i.e., haredi schools, not the Zionist Orthodox schools] in the Canton of Zurich. Authorities are now focusing their attention to their curriculum. Not for the first time.
The decision by the Zurich Department of Education against the Islamic al-Huda kindergarten [that the values taught at the school were incompatible with the required state educational standards], is having a fundamental impact on other religious schools in the canton. This is now being experienced by the Jewish schools. The Department of Education will now review the permits for the Orthodox Jewish kindergartens and schools. “It is not at all certain that these institutions actually comply with the curriculum requirement,” said Martin Wendelspiess, head of the Zurich Education Ministry. The Ministry has therefore written to the leadership that they must discuss the reevaluation of the curriculum structure.
In extreme cases, a school can be shut down when those responsible are unwilling to implement the new requirements. Specifically, this affects three kindergartens and four schools where around 500 [haredi] children are taught. The problem is mainly Zurich-specific, because the vast majority of Jewish students are taught in the City of Zurich. The discussion focuses on the question of where the balance lies between secular subjects and religious education is being met in the schools. In the case of the Islamic kindergarten, the Department of Education came to the conclusion that this was not the case [i.e., the Department of Education decided that the students were being improperly educated because they were not getting an adequate secular education] due to its oversight by the Islamic Central Council. The Board of Directors of al-Huda views this as a wrong decision, because [they believe] it harms equal rights for religions. They therefore want this decision to be reviewed and if necessary [will] submit a legal challenge.
"As long as the curriculum requirements and the valid legal orders are respected, all schools should be able to operate freely in liberal country like Switzerland," says Ariel Wyler from the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities [which is said to be desperate to please haredi leadership and "engage" it]. However, for this particular case, he did not want to express a view.
Wyler also agrees with the reassessment of the Orthodox Jewish schools by the Department of Education. He believes, however, that schools will meet the requirements. “The Department of Education has previously granted permission to all these schools and kindergartens on the basis of the valid legal order.”
The orientation of these schools are not all the same. "The practices and customs are manifold, and the boundaries between them are constantly changing," says Wyler. “But, all these Jewish schools strictly follow the core values and rules such as dietary laws and Sabbath and holiday rest would be strictly followed.”
In the canton of Zurich, there are various schools of religious communities. The Education Ministry decides as a supervisory body on the accreditation granted to private schools. Under the Elementary School Law of 2005, students must not be exposed to any ideological influences that run counter to the objectives of elementary school in a fundamental way.
Orthodox Jewish schools recently faced another headache from the authorities. In 2010, four schools in Zurich came under pressure. The Education Ministry discovered that the qualification of teachers in non-religious subjects were inadequate. They had difficulties in finding suitable teachers with the necessary qualifications. Therefore, the authority granted these schools a transitional period of 7 years. The Ministry also required changes to the buildings where these schools operated from. Consequently, two large schools with about 350 students moved into new classrooms. “A solution has been found to improve premises and meet the legally required training of teachers”, Wyler claimed. "The mutual benefit was very positive."