Israel Expanding Hebrew Language Studies in Arab Schools

Education Ministry says the new program is meant to help Arab students integrate into the workforce and reduce inequality.

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A school in Israel's Arab sector.
A school in Israel's Arab sector.Credit: Rami Shlush

The Education Ministry will expand the Hebrew language studies program in Arab schools, starting this coming school year in September.

The program will now start with kindergarten instead of third grade, and some 120 kindergartens will participate this year in a pilot program that includes getting acquainted with Hebrew for two hours a week. First and second grade students in Arab schools will also receive two hours a week of instruction in Hebrew to become familiar with the language.

The cost of the plan is estimated at 30 million shekels ($7.9 million) a year.

Starting from the 2016-17 school year, Arab students in grades 3-9 will study Hebrew five hours a week, instead of the present four, with two of these hours allocated to the Hebrew-speaking skills. This school year the students will have one hour dedicated to learning to speak Hebrew.

The ministry’s goal for the program is to improve Arab students’ command of Hebrew, with an emphasis on understanding spoken Hebrew and speaking it. The Ministry believes the new program can reduce social inequality: The better Arab students know Hebrew, the better and more easily they can integrate into the workforce.

Data from the National Authority for Measurement and Evaluation in Education (known in Hebrew by its acronym RAMA) shows that 93 percent of sixth grade students in the Arab community think knowledge of Hebrew will help them succeed, but only 47 percent of Arab students are exposed to Hebrew outside of school. 26 percent read Hebrew newspapers and only 16 percent watch television shows in Hebrew.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said the decision to move up Hebrew language instruction into preschool in Arab schools stems from thinking about the future of these children.

“We believe that the better the command of Hebrew that students from the Arab community have, the better and easier they will be able to integrate into the economy, the places of work and society.” Bennett said he has promised to reduce inequality and this is one of the steps to do so.

The program will help students attain communications skills in Hebrew and allow them to participate in discussions and express their opinions in various  social interactions and in different circumstances – as well as being able to understand lectures, media broadcasts and written texts, said the Ministry.     

The Hebrew language program also will include familiarity with Hebrew-language culture, such as songs, literature and poetry, as well as traditional Jewish texts.

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