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A 54-year-old education expert at Tel Aviv University has become the first Israeli Arab woman in the country to be appointed a full professor.

"It's a real breakthrough," Fadia Nasser-Abu Alhija said of her appointment yesterday. "First of all, I am proud of myself for this personal accomplishment. But I believe I won't be the last - more and more Arab women are entering the higher education system in a variety of fields."

As of 2007, there were 33 Arab full professors employed in Israeli research universities - all of them men, according to a master's thesis written by former Open University of Israel graduate student Iris Zarini.

Nasser-Abu Alhija, who heads the department of curriculum planning and instruction at Tel Aviv University's School of Education, was informed of the appointment last month, about 30 years after she began her teaching career at a high school in the Israeli Arab town of Tira.

She completed a doctorate in research, evaluation, measurement and statistical methods in 1997, earning her Ph.D. from the University of Georgia in the United States.

"I see female Arab students leading the way in school," said Nasser-Abu Alhija. "And that process is not only taking place in bachelor's degree programs. There are several reasons for this - Arab families are changing, and attributing more importance to educating their girls. Also, the students themselves have become exposed to successful women who now serve as role models. Economically, people are discovering that having one salary per family isn't enough."

Still, she said, schools in Arab areas suffer from a serious lack of government investment.

"We have to improve Arab public schools," she said.