Over the next months, a series of reports in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin will examine Jewish education in Ottawa at all levels – from preschool to adult education. It will be an honest examination that discusses the options available here – and the major problems our schools are facing.
We are launching the series at a crucial time for Jewish education in this city. As noted in this article, the Jewish Federation of Ottawa has launched a task force on the future of Jewish high school education in the city. The need for such a task force became obvious two months ago when the Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS) Board of Directors reluctantly made the decision to phase out its high school division after five years of failing to achieve enrolment levels that would make the high school grades sustainable.
It was hoped that the amalgamation of Hillel Academy and Yitzhak Rabin High School to form OJCS in 2009 would result in more students staying in Jewish day school through their high school years. But that has not been the case.
Although the OJCS maintained high academic standards, most Grade 8 students graduating from the elementary level did not continue at the high school level. There were just 24 students enrolled in in Grades 9 to 12 this school year, with only 20 expected for the school year set to begin next September. The high school division was expected to run an additional deficit of $250,000 per year – a situation that could no longer be maintained.
In fact, enrolment levels at day schools and supplementary schools in Ottawa have been declining at all levels for a decade or more. And the situation here is not unique. With some rare exceptions, such as a thriving Jewish community day high school in Vancouver, enrolment levels have been declining over that period in most North American Jewish communities for a variety of reasons.
Jewish day schools in Ontario, though, have been particularly hard hit because it is the only jurisdiction in North America that funds the schools of one faith group to the exclusion of all others, a situation the United Nations Human Rights Commission has twice ruled is discriminatory and a violation of Canada’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The series will focus on Jewish preschools and early childhood education (May 11), day schools (May 26), supplementary schools (June 22), informal educational opportunities (July 27), university Jewish studies and adult education (August 17) and a look to the future (September 7).
Despite problems, Ottawa is a city with a wide range of opportunities for Jewish education at all levels. We hope our series will help families – indeed, people of all ages – understand all of the options they have to experience and enjoy Jewish education in our community.