Ethiopian Literacy Programs

Ethiopian Literacy Photo 3


Literacy Programs for the Ethiopian Community


The Need: Waves of Ethiopian aliyah beginning in 1980 have successfully brought over 125,000 Ethiopian Jewish immigrants to Israel. Today, the Ethiopian sector is concentrated primarily in several cities throughout the country, among them Jerusalem, in which specific neighbourhoods are home to large Ethiopian communities. However, social integration of this population has faced many hurdles over the years. The cultural disparity between the immigrants, many of whom arrived illiterate and unfamiliar with the nuances of modern life, and the realities of contemporary Israeli society, have hindered their opportunities for education, work, and socioeconomic equality. Indeed, the State Comptroller reported in May 2013 that 51.7% of Israel's Ethiopian-immigrant families and 65% of the community’s children remain in poverty. Other reports reflecting these social discrepancies have shown that only 43% of Ethiopian students passed their high school matriculation exams with only 22% scoring high enough for university admission (vs. 58% and 50%, respectively, among other Jewish-Israeli students).


The Jerusalem Foundation has been working for 50 years to ensure equal access to quality education and academic opportunities for all of the city’s residents, with particular emphasis on the most vulnerable populations on the demographic spectrum. In fulfillment of this mandate, the Jerusalem Foundation has partnered with two resource centers located in neighborhoods with significant Ethiopian-immigrant populations for implementation of a specialized Hebrew Literacy Program. Both the Yad Rachel Therapeutic and Educational Center (known as Yad Rachel) in the Greater Katamon neighborhood, and the Rachel Karwan Child Development Center (Merkaz Rachel) in Kiryat Menachem, offer a range of social, developmental and educational services to the children in their respective communities. Hence these two institutions are positioned to serve as professional frameworks to address the language development needs of children from Ethiopian families.


At a ceremony held on May 26, 2014, Merkaz Rachel was awarded the Ashelim Prize, a prize bestowed annually to an outstanding institution working on behalf of "at-risk children/youth" in the State of Israel. The director of Merkaz Rachel was commended for "novelty and excellence" in the development of a multi-disciplinary model for a preschool development center.


Impact on Jerusalem: Literacy is the foundation of success. Indeed, mastery of reading and writing is perhaps the greatest indicator for future achievement in school and life. Researchers have identified the window of time from birth to age eight as crucial for a child's development of literacy. Hence, parents are encouraged to engage their children in experiences that promote emergent literacy skills, building a foundation of pre-reading knowledge that facilitates ease of learning to read and write in the first grade. Children from all Israeli immigrant families, whose early childhood is often spent in a non-Hebrew environment, face particular challenges in attaining native-level Hebrew literacy. Those growing up in the Ethiopian immigrant community must often overcome daunting cultural obstacles to success as well. The Jerusalem Foundation supports the Hebrew literacy programming at Merkaz Rachel and Yad Rachel with the aim of equalizing opportunity for the Ethiopian immigrant community and providing every Ethiopian-Israeli child with the best start in life.


The Hebrew Literacy Programs include:

  • Language & Literacy:

In each location, the program provides children in the early grades with the developmentally appropriate lessons, materials and experiences necessary for them to begin to read and write.

  • First-Grade Readiness:

Young children growing up in homes in which reading is not emphasized – where they rarely see their parents or other family members read and "story time" is not an integral part of the daily schedule –  frequently lack the basis for learning to read in the first grade. The First-Grade Readiness course enables these children to begin elementary school on par with their more "well-read" classmates.

  • Culturally sensitive mentoring for parents:

Many parents in the local Ethiopian community are themselves illiterate in their native Amharic and/or in Hebrew. The success of any reading readiness program for the children, therefore, depends on demonstrating its importance to their parents.




Partners: Jerusalem Municipality; Ministry of Education; Ministry of Health; Ministry of Housing & Construction; Ganim Community Council; Gonenim Community Council; 360: National Program for Children and Youth at Risk.


Funding needed: 150,000 NIS per year