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Back to The Education of Non-Native Language Speaking Children

Executive Summary

All children, including immigrants, are entitled to receive a free education from ages three to eighteen. Immigrants who qualify under the Law of Return are entitled to supplemental Hebrew education programs. The Ministry of Education allocates limited funds for education in foreign languages, including those of originating countries.

Introduction

The modern State of Israel was re-established as a national home for the Jewish people.[1]  It therefore maintains an immigration policy that gives priority to immigrants of Jewish descent (Olim).[2]  The State has absorbed large populations of Olim from all over the world.  In the last decade it has received approximately 850,000 Olim from the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States, former U.S.S.R), and approximately 65,000 from Ethiopia.  

The absorption of Olim is viewed as an important objective and is handled primarily by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption.  The Ministry “views knowledge of the Hebrew language as an important prerequisite for an immigrant’s absorption into Israeli life.”[3]  The Ministry runs special educational programs (Ulpan) for the teaching of Hebrew to both children and adults who are Olim.  In addition to Ulpan programs, children are entitled to attend educational programs that are developed and maintained by the Ministry of Education.

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Right to Education

The Compulsory Education Law, 5709-1949,[4] as amended, provides for mandatory free education for all children ages three to eighteen for a period of fifteen years.  This includes three years of pre-school from age three to age five; and twelve years of school from the first through the twelfth grade.  

Non-Olim children enjoy educational programs based on Israel’s general obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.[5]  Accordingly, the children of foreign workers are entitled to receive a free education, without discrimination.  

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Instruction in Hebrew - Language of the Host Country

1. School Programs

Olim immigrants are entitled to receive supple[6]mentary education in accordance with regulations issued by the Minister of Education.  Although non-Olim immigrant children are qualified to register and study in preschools and in schools, they may not be entitled to receive supplementary services, such as special assistance and reinforcement in the study of Hebrew, that is given to children of legal immigrants.[7

Immigrant children are usually “immersed” into regular classes, but may be entitled to receive special assistance tutoring, sometimes during regular class hours.  Students twelve years of age or older may attend special Ulpans for a period of six months, after which they transfer to regular classes.[8]  

The Ministry of Education maintains a special department for the planning and development of education programs.  The department’s recent proposal titled “A New Educational Program in Hebrew as Second Language in Grades 1st to 12th in Public and Religious-Public Schools” was issued on January 1, 2009 and is awaiting final approval.[9

2. Ulpan Programs

Ulpanim (plural of Ulpan) are educational frameworks run by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and Education and the Jewish Agency, for learning the Hebrew language.  They are held throughout the year in various locations throughout the country.  The Ulpanim offer several study programs, the most common of which is reportedly the five-day-a-week morning program.  There are also evening programs.  According to information posted on the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption website, a morning program lasts approximately five months; and an evening program lasts approximately 10 months, depending on the study program.  In total, students study approximately 500 study hours.[10

Additional types of Ulpanim include;

  • special kibbutz[11] living programs;  
  • programs that are run by the Student Authority;  
  • Ulpan for Retirees;  
  • supplementary Ulpanim, including special ones for members of the medical and paramedical professions;  
  • supplementary Ulpanim for Caucasian (Kavkazian)[12] Olim in localities with concentrations of these Olim; and,  
  • vocational Ulpanim, including those specially designed for members of various vocations: medical, paramedical and technological professions. 

In addition to the specialized Ulpanim, the Ministry also runs Second Chance Ulpanim that are designed for immigrants who have been in Israel for up to 10 years and who encounter everyday difficulties with the Hebrew language.  These programs address speech, writing, comprehension and language issues.  The studies take place in 30-hour modules, mainly in the evening.  Tuition is nominal and is paid by the immigrant.[13]

Private Ulpanim are also available in universities, immigrant organizations, etc.  The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, however, has no connection with these Ulpanim

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Bilingual Teaching in the Language of Students' Mother Tongue

While the Ministry of Education allocates a sizable budget for the study of Arabic and French, it is said to provide very limited support for the study of the Russian language.  According to a transcript of a joint meeting of the Knesset (Parliament) Committee for Alia (immigration of Olim), Absorption and Diaspora, and the Knesset Committee for Education, Culture and Sport, there is priority for the study of the French language in all schools because of a special cultural agreement with France that also established subsidies for certain activities, such as travel to France. 

Considering the sizable population of native Russian-speaking Olim, the Committee concluded that they wished to equate the status of other foreign languages to that of the French language, and that they would propose a legislative reform if such equation is not adopted by the Ministry of Education.[14]

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Additional Programs for Immigrant Children

Information was requested from the Ministry of Education in Israel and will be provided upon receipt.

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Prepared by Ruth Levush, Senior Foreign Law Specialist

April 2009

  1. Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, 1 Laws of the State of Israel (hereafter LSI) 3 (5708-1948). [Back to Text]
  2. See Law of Return 5710-1950, 4 LSI 114, as amended. [Back to Text]
  3. What is an Ulpan?, Ministry of Immigrant Absorption website, at http://www.moia.gov.il/Moia_en/StudyingHebrew/WhatsUlpan.htm (external link) (last visited March 25, 2009). [Back to Text]
  4. 3 LSI 125 (5709-1949). [Back to Text]
  5. Convention on the Rights of the Child, Nov. 20, 1989, 1577 U.N.T.S. 3. [Back to Text]
  6. Compulsory Education (Accepted Services) Regulations, 5711-1950 §1(a), Kovetz ha-Takanot (Subsidiary Legislation) No. 125, p. 160 (Nov. 3, 1950), as amended. [Back to Text]
  7. Yoram Rabin, ha-Zekhut le-ḥinukh [The Right for Education] 427 ft. 422 (Nevo Publishing, 2002 [in Hebrew]). [Back to Text]
  8. Avital Epel, Teaching the Hebrew Language to Olim Students in the Education System, Knesset Center for Research and Information, the Knesset website (June 18, 2001), available at, http://www.knesset.gov.il/MMM/data/docs/m00053.rtf (external link). [Back to Text]
  9. Hebrew as a Second Language (Education Plan For Olim Children In Classes First Through Twelfth At Schools), Ministry of Education, Pedagogue Division, Division for Planning and Development of Educational Programs, available at Ministry of Education website,http://cms.education.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/47B46FAC-E3DB-4201-9E1B-9A3A13380C53/65928/safa2.pdf (external link) (PDF). [Back to Text]
  10. Supra note 3. [Back to Text]
  11. Collective settlements. [Back to Text]
  12. Immigrants from the Caucacas Mountain region. [Back to Text]
  13. Additional Types of Ulpanim, The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption website at http://www.moia.gov.il/Moia_en/StudyingHebrew/AdditionalTypes.htm (external link) (last visited March 25, 2009). [Back to Text]
  14. Press Release: A Second Foreign Language in Middle School (including the Russian Language), Knesset Committee for Alia, Absorption and Diaspora website at http://portal.knesset.gov.il/Com27alia/he-IL/Messages/news_7273.htm (external link) (May 8, 2007).  [Back to Text]

Last Updated: 06/27/2014