Israeli high school students taking matriculation exams, April 4, 2009
Israeli high school students taking matriculation exams. Photo by Archive
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A new government program will see Arabic language classes made compulsory in Israel's schools, starting from the fifth grade.

Beginning this year as pilot initiative in 170 public and religious-public schools in northern Israel, the scheme will eventually be adopted extend across the country.

Until now, Israeli students had the option of learning Arabic to fulfill a requirement to study a second language in grades seven to ten. Other options were Russian, French, or Amharic.

But a marked increase in demand from students for matriculation (Bagrut) studies in Arabic has led education officials to rethink the curriculum. The change expected to draw dozens of Arabic teachers into the school system.

"We live in a country that has two official languages," Dr. Shlomo Alon, Head of Arabic and Islam Education in the Ministry of Education, told the 'Walla' news website. "Studying Arabic will promote tolerance and convey a message of acceptance."

According to Alon, the Ministry of Education is interested in recognizing all of the state's citizens and providing opportunities for Arab teachers within Israeli education.

"The state aspires to complete equality of citizenship. We will not deal with conflicts based on cultural identity," he said