Israel has a large network of residential facilities with a variety of educational programs, due to special cultural and historical elements. Jewish tradition has a favorable view of leaving home at adolescence for study purposes. This combines with historical and sociological processes related to the nation-building phase that Israeli society is still undergoing. As part of nation building, youth villages were developed – a large network of residential schools for heterogeneous and multicultural youth populations. Children, together with their families, can decide (for many reasons like migration, family difficulties, or school failure) to join these residential settings – living together with peers, with full financial support of the public authorities. Although this residential education model has been functioning for many years, public criticism has been growing of the relatively poor academic achievements of youth village graduates. Children and adolescents placed in residential care facilities have weaker academic achievements than similar populations of young people raised at home, perhaps because in caring for vulnerable populations placed in out-of-home care, the priority is stabilizing and caring for emotional difficulties identified. Such prioritizing meant that academic accomplishment was generally considered a minor priority. In Israel, too, where the focus has been on strengthening young people’s emotional wellbeing and helping them develop socially, artistically, and athletically, insufficient attention was given academic success. Although high-school curricula are part of residential programs in Israel, this lack of attention undermined these adolescents’ opportunity for higher education. Benbenishty, Zeira, and Arzav (2015) who studied this issue in Israel claimed that overcoming the challenge for care leavers to successfully enter and complete higher education could be crucial to breaking the vicious circle of marginality.
Uneasiness increased when the low matriculation achievements of youth village graduates came to public attention (Benbenishty, Zeira & Arzav, 2015; Zeira, 2009), as high matriculation scores are the key to higher education and to prestigious opportunities in the military service and later in the job market. In response, the Ministry of Education, which finances and supervises most of these residential programs, decided on a policy change, beginning by publicizing matriculation scores. In their defense, the directors claimed that their students came from a lower starting point and should not be compared to students in established urban schools. These claims were countered by the argument that these young people entered residential schools with the hope of being enhanced by the round-the-clock educational services offered in these schools.
Toward Improved Academic Achievements: The Ecological Model for Policy Change
Policy changes take place through “top-down” policy decisions or “down-up” processes. The educational policy change for residential schools was initiated by leaders of the Ministry of Education and implemented from the top down to the residential education network as a whole. The Ministry of Education was forced to act following the widespread large public campaign led by NGOs lobbying for better integration of the Ethiopian community. Researchers and other social activists joined and demanded to raise public awareness of the low academic results in residential education programs.
The outcome was a new Ministry of Education policy in 2012. The Ministry decided to allocate major financial resources to youth villages, with the expectation of significant improvements in the achievements of youth village students. A special unit of four supervisors was established, entrusted with developing and initiating new programs geared at improving academic achievements of youth village students. One of their major initiatives was the development of “study centers” or “evening classes” and other innovative programs, like intensive “marathons” before crucial exams, personal tutoring and smaller classes, all applying non-formal methods in a relaxed atmosphere. These new evening programs, led by direct-care staff and the school teachers, completely changed the micro-level learning atmosphere. According to Milo-Aloni (2019), in 2016 such study centers were operating in 43 youth villages, and by 2019 in 70 youth villages. Schools in youth villages are required to submit monthly reports of their concrete activities to improve academic standards.
Supervisors of the Ministry of Education are on hand to constantly follow up these new programs and scrutinize the matriculation results for each youth village. Finally, yet importantly, large sums were allocated to youth villages by the Ministry of Education (more than 8 million US dollars a year), to develop and operate these new learning centers and related initiatives (Milo-Aloni, 2019).
Systematic follow up of residential school graduate’s success rate in National Matriculation tests show a net positive effect. Starting with 36% of success in 2013 (compared to 66.9% national average), it moved to 46% in 2014 (in comparison to 66.17% national average), 54% in 2015 (compared to 66.13% national average), 57% in 2016 (compared to 64.20% national average), 63% in 2017 (compared to 61.80% national average) up to 70.00% in 2018 (compared to 64.10% national average).
As these figures demonstrate (Milo-Aloni, 2019), the policy change has improved the academic achievements of youth in care year-on-year between 2013 and 2019. Moreover, the gap between the success rates of youth in care and the national average figures has narrowed in that time. Measuring one variable only (matriculation scores) could be problematic methodologically, as such an increase could be the result of cumulative efforts, among them developing special courses for improving learning competences, reducing the number of students in a class, and personal mentoring. However, the upward trend of these figures is very clear and is clearly indicative of the overall success of this policy change.
Benbenishty, R., Zeira, A., & Arzav, S. (2015). Educational achievements of alumni of educational residential facilities. MIFGASH (Encounter: Journal of socialeducational work), 23(42), 9–35. (Hebrew)
Milo-Aloni, O. (2019). “Studying in slippers”: Improving learning achievements. An original educational program in youth villages. Tel Aviv, Israel: The Administration for Residential Education, Ministry of Education. (Hebrew).
Zeira, A. (2009). Alumni of educational residential settings in Israel: A cultural perspective. Children and Youth Services Review, 31, 1074–1079
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