A growing number of British children are choosing to go to school in Israel — without having to pay a shekel for their tuition.
The Naale programme offers teenagers from the diaspora the opportunity of an Israeli education where they can learn Hebrew and graduate with the bagrut, the Israeli equivalent of the baccalaureate.
“We have 20 from the UK,” said its director-general Yeshayahu Yechieli. “Five year ago there were 10.”
The British contingent among 2,100 pupils from 57 countries may still be small but “we believe there is more potential,” he said.
To that end, he recently paid a short visit to the UK. “We came to meet families who are interested in the programme for future years, together with parents of children who have already done it. We wanted to listen to their views.”
Students can spend three or four years, joining in year 10 or 11; the latest age at which they can sign up is 16.
Their educational and boarding costs are fully met by Israel’s Ministry of Education and Jewish Agency, and the first flight is also provided free.
“We can accept children who don’t know even know what aleph is,” Mr Yechieli said.
“After a few months of intensive ulpan, they manage reading, writing and speaking Hebrew.”
After a year, they can fully join their Israeli contemporaries for classes — or continue to take some options in their native language.
Naale offers a variety of eight boarding schools able to cater for English-speaking students and a choice of ethos — secular/cultural, national-religious or Lubavitch.
“It is a very intensive experience for students — they become more independent and responsible,” he said.
Ravid Meron, Naale’s regional manager for the UK and French-speaking countries, said that students are carefully chosen and the programme has developed its capacity to support “youngsters who come alone to a different country. We do an admissions test to make sure programme is good for the child and the child will benefit.”
Around 18,000 students have graduated from the programme since its inception some 28 years ago — and 90 per cent, she said, have chosen to remain in Israel.