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Education Minister Yuli Tamir last week received recommendations for a comprehensive education plan for the Arab community, part of which is to be implemented in the next school year.

The plan involves major reforms and a large investment, reflecting "recognition of a multi-year injustice which must be corrected," said the Education Ministry official said.

Drafted jointly by the ministry and the education committee within the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, the plan consists of reforms in Arabic instruction and Arabic-language matriculation exams, updating study programs, treating learning disabilities and building numerous classrooms. Its implementation, which will spread over several years, is estimated to cost billions of shekels.

The plan was initiated following the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee's threat to paralyze Arab schools on the eve of the present school year. The ministry agreed to set up four joint committees, which would focus on the needs of the Arabic education system.

After receiving the committees' reports, the ministry set up swift implementation teams to work, among other things, with the various ministries, especially the Finance Ministry.

"We're not dealing with mere goodwill but with a commitment for a large investment," a ministry official said.

However, a source in the Arab committee said: "Tamir and the Education Ministry still have to prove they mean business. If the work is carried out seriously, it could have far reaching results."

The first joint committee "to examine achievements" recommended a reform in Arab language instruction, especially in the lower classes. It proposes teaching Arabic only in first and second grade and postponing Hebrew instruction to third grade and English to fourth grade (today Hebrew is taught earlier). It also recommends continuing the instruction in core subjects past second grade and adding 300 truancy officers.

The committee for study programs dealt with the Arabic language's declining status, recommending raising Arabic language matriculation exam's mandatory level from three to four units and distinguishing between spoken and literary Arabic.

"This would equalize Arabic language's status with Hebrew's in matriculation certificates and strengthen the younger generation's command of its mother tongue," the committee wrote.

The committee dealing with classroom shortage noted that 9,236 classrooms must be built by 2012. This will require a NIS 3.6 billion addition to the Education Ministry's budget, which provides for the construction of some 3,100 classrooms, as part of the government's five-year plan released about 18 months ago.

The fourth budget focused on treating learning disabilities in the Arab community. It recommends developing methods especially adjusted to the Arabic language to spot and diagnose these disabilities. The committee urged recognizing children suffering from learning disabilities in nursery school and the lower grades.