‘Jewish day schools treat faith as a way of life’
The public education system will benefit with the inclusion of faith-based schools because it will bring students and educators together into the same system, says Howard English.
“Public education would benefit first and foremost because it would become a much more diverse system which reflects contemporary Ontario,” says English, vice-president of corporate communications for the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.
“The first benefit would be to bring kids together from what are now faith-based schools and what are now public schools in a way that they are not brought together at this time,” he says.
If the approximately 53,000 students who currently attend faith-based schools in the province were invited into the public system, there would be opportunity to share resources, he says.
“The educators at faith-based schools would be able to provide best practices from faith-based schools and education innovations from faith-based schools to their counter-parts in the public system and vice versa. It’s a tremendous opportunity to learn from each other,” says English.
There are over 400 faith-based schools in Ontario, where parents pay tuition to send their children. The Greater Toronto Area has 36 Jewish day schools at 44 campuses. The Jewish day schools vary in denomination with Reform, Conservative and Orthodox.
“All of the Jewish day schools provide an excellent secular education, and they also provide an intensive heritage-based and faith-based education,” says English.
“Jewish day schools treat faith as a way of life, it’s not just something that you practice on Saturday or something that happens at your Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah, it’s an everyday occurrence, every hour of every day.”
Students who attend the Jewish day schools have the opportunity to learn in a strong faith-based environment that adheres to Ontario curriculum, says English.
The UJA Federation has a branch called the Centre for Enhancement of Jewish Education (the Mercaz). According to its website, the Centre is “dedicated to strengthening, enriching and promoting the quality of Jewish education in our schools.” Many Jewish day schools are members of the Centre, says English.
“In order to be affiliated with the centre there are compliance requirements that are based on the quality of education of the school, adherence to the Ontario curriculum, the certification of teachers, the way the school is governed, the transparency of their financial records and so on,” he says.
When a school is affiliated with the Centre for Enhancement of Jewish Education the parents are eligible for subsidies to help defray tuition costs, says English.
The Inclusive Education Initiative website is supported by the Canadian Jewish Congress Ontario Region, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the Public Education Fairness Network. This website outlines the benefits of inclusive education in Ontario, including that if faith-based schools were funded they would be accountable to have accredited teachers and meet Ontario curriculum requirements.
One of the benefits listed on the website is the province-wide curricula opportunities for foreign language instruction. In addition to learning French, students in Jewish day schools learn Hebrew.
The website points out that for many parents who observe a religion, faith-based education is considered part of their child’s development.
“Participation in the public system poses unique practical challenges to observant students,” the website states. This includes missing schools days to observe holy days and their observance of dietary restrictions. “At faith-based schools, the school day and calendar can accommodate religious requirements without disrupting the education of other children, while students meet Ministry attendance and curriculum requirements.”
English says there is a high level of discipline for students at faith-based schools, which lays a foundation for good grades in post-secondary education. Faith-based schools contribute to Canadian society through the graduates who enter the work field, he says.
“They’ve also been in an environment which requires a passion for learning and a sense of discipline, which serves not only the students well but also society well.”
English says the UJA has been advocating for an inclusive education system for decades, and it is the most important policy issue in the province.
“The current situation is really not a credit to a wonderful province like Ontario, which prides itself on fairness and which welcomes so many people from so many backgrounds into an inclusive society,” he says. “Our quest for fairness will continue until fairness is achieved.”