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Applicants for teaching jobs in Arab schools are outraged by a recent Education Ministry decision requiring all candidates to take an Arabic proficiency test.

The ministry announced the new rule in a statement published on April 20, in which it also said the test would take place on June 22.

Some of the applicants complained that they received the notice only in late May, leaving them little time to prepare.

Others complained that they are already working as untenured teachers in public schools, and having to study for an exam while also coping with the heavy end-of-term work load of final exams and grades put them under too much pressure.

N., one of the applicants, said she has no objection in principle to an Arabic proficiency exam, but applicants must be given sufficient time to prepare.

They should also be told what material the exam will cover, she argued.

"You have to remember that there are people applying to teach English or Hebrew or math, for whom use of the Arabic language is not fundamental," she said. "Perhaps instead of [just] an exam, it would be better to organize a course for teachers or applicants followed by an exam. But the ministry apparently went for the cheapest solution."

Another applicant objected that the ministry should not judge candidates solely on the basis of an Arabic exam, while ignoring the fact that every applicant has already gone through seven years of training - consisting of a bachelor's degree, a teaching certificate and an internship.

Yet another applicant complained that the ministry's demand for an exam was a sign of its own failure to produce schools that taught proper Arabic, and that instituting the exam would not solve this problem.

The Education Ministry rejected these complaints. "I wish we could hold a similar exam in Hebrew for Jewish teachers," a senior ministry official said. "But unlike in the Arab sector, the Jewish schools are facing a shortage of teachers."

In the Arab sector, he explained, some 6,500 people are applying for 1,500 positions. Thus the ministry has the luxury of choosing the very best candidates.

The official added that Arab students' poor command of Arabic impairs their reading comprehension and their ability to master other subjects - a fact reflected in their performance on both Israeli and international assessment tests.

So far, the new rule applies only to Arab schools, and not to the Druze and Bedouin school systems - even though they also teach in Arabic.

The entire issue is due to be discussed by the Knesset today, in response to a motion for the agenda by two Arab Knesset members, Masud Ganaim and Hanna Swaid.