Victorian plenum discusses Jewish education

April 3, 2012 by Michelle Coleman
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The value of a Jewish Day School education, its high cost and the inclusion of students with special needs… these were the hot topics debated at the Jewish Community Council of Victoria’s (JCCV) plenum on Monday night.

Rabbi James Kennard

Leibler-Yavneh College principal Roy Steinman and Mount Scopus Memorial College principal Rabbi James Kennard responded to the JCCV’s invitation to school leaders to address the plenum in a special ‘conversation about education’.
Both educators emphasised the difference between a Jewish Day School education and supplementary Hebrew and Jewish Studies classes in other settings. Rabbi Kennard spoke of the greater quantity of Jewish content taught in the Day School system, the students’ access to high quality Jewish educators, and the lack of a sense of compartmentalisation between Jewish and secular life that students who are not in Jewish Day Schools often feel.

Roy Steinman

“A Jewish Day School is more than just the content that is taught in the class,” Mr Steinman added, citing the euphoria that gripped the school following Gilad Shalit’s release and the pervasive sorrow after the Toulouse shooting as examples.
But it was the issue of the high cost of Jewish schooling that stimulated the most debate. The pros and cons of a plethora of potential solutions were touted by the school principals, including:

  •         Merging selected Jewish Day Schools
  •         Rationalising resources, particularly at VCE level where each 
school offers a wide range of subjects   with generally small 
class sizes
  •         Giving less money to Israel and more to subsidising places at 
Jewish Day Schools
  •         Adopting a NSW-style Jewish Communal Appeal model that 
directs funding towards Jewish schools 
While Rabbi Kennard’s and Mr Steinman’s views were not uniform, both principals agreed that Jewish Day School education is in crisis, and that there is an urgent need for community leadership. “It doesn’t make sense that other parents should be subsidising those who need it,” said Rabbi Kennard, calling on leadership that is not the schools to take action to ensure greater community charitable funds are accessible for those who cannot afford a Jewish Day School education.

On the topic of special needs students, both principals admitted that the schools were not doing enough due to financial constraints and that this was a tragedy for the community.
JCCV President Nina Bassat AM said of the evening: “It was an interesting and open discussion that raised many issues which we as a community need to address.”
“I extend my sincere thanks to Rabbi Kennard and Mr Steinman for taking the time from their busy schedule to address us on the problems facing our Jewish Day School system as well as the benefits derived from it.”

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