Arab Share of Israeli School Population Is Dipping

Taub Center says growth trend reversed three-to-four years ago and hasn't changed.

Moti Milrod

After many years of steady growth, the Israeli Arab and ultra-Orthodox share of the country’s young pupils is showing signs of a decline relative to the secular and national-religious share, according to the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies.

After rising to 28.2 percent of the total school population in 2009, up from 24.2 percent 10 years earlier, the proportion of Israeli Arabs enrolled in first through sixth grade has been declining and reached 26.4 percent of the elementary school-age population this year, the Taub Center said in its State of the Nation report yesterday.

Meanwhile, the last three years has seen the percentage of ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, children in the same grades reach a plateau at about 18.5 percent. That compares with sharp growth between 2000 and 2012 that saw the Haredi share increase to as much as 18.8 percent, up from 13.4 percent, according to ministry figures.

The demographic change, which gives an insight into what Israel’s working-age population will look like in decades ahead, comes amid concerns that Israel’s economic growth will be constrained by the country’s failure to give Arabs and Haredim an adequate education for a knowledge-based economy and fully integrate them into the labor force. Their share of the country’s population – now about 20 percent for Israeli Arabs and about 8 percent for Haredim – is forecast to grow, making it hard for Israel to increase labor productivity, the key to economic growth.

The years 1999 through 2012 saw a steady decline in the share of elementary school-age children among Israel’s secular and national-religious population. In 1999, it had stood at 47.8 percent, but by 2012 it had fallen to 39.9 percent.

In the last two years, however, the secular-national religious share has edged up to 40.7 percent.

“The data indicate that these demographic changes are apparently not due to an exceptional change in a single year, but rather a trend that began near the end of the previous decade and continues to the present,” said the report. “The rhetoric and tone of the public discourse concerning the demographic composition of the education system and its possible future consequences should adjust to match the facts.”