An increasing number of Arab high school students in East Jerusalem are seeking to earn an Israeli matriculation certificate, according to data presented by the EduAction independent education policy forum at a conference in Jerusalem Wednesday.
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This year 1,934 East Jerusalem teens are in classes geared toward the matriculation exam, compared with 1,392 students in 2013. The number is expected to increase to 2,200 next year, according to the education conference.
The rise in demand for an Israeli matriculation (bagrut) certificate has been attributed to the completion of the separation barrier between Jerusalem and the West Bank, which makes it difficult for East Jerusalem students to reach universities in the West Bank. Without an Israeli matriculation certificate, they can’t study at Israeli colleges and universities either.
Moshe Tur-Paz, director of the Jerusalem Education Administration, told of visiting a school in the Arab neighborhood of Beit Hanina school two weeks ago with Mayor Nir Barkat.
“The mayor asked one of the students what he does in the afternoon, and we expected him to say he plays soccer, but instead he said he goes to a class to study for the Israeli bagrut and he pays 12,000 shekels ($3,100) to this private school,” said Tur-Paz. “That was a watershed moment for us. We understood that it’s our obligation to offer this option. We are not imposing it on anyone, but we have to offer it.”
Over the past few years at least 10 private institutes have sprung up offering after-school courses to help East Jerusalemites pass the Israeli exams, but last year the Education Ministry and the Jerusalem municipality began encouraging schools to either switch over to the Israeli curriculum or providing financial incentives to schools offering a bagrut track. Next year the city is planning to open a secondary school in Beit Hanina that will teach the Israeli curriculum.
While the plan was to open just two seventh-grade classes, 220 students registered and now the plan is to open seven classes for grades 7 and 8.
In the 2015-2016 school year, the Israeli curriculum will be studied in 88 classes in six schools, a significant increase from three years ago, when about half the number of classes in two schools offered bagrut classes.
These numbers represent only around 5 percent of the pupils in the East Jerusalem school system — most students at East Jerusalem high schools take the Palestinian matriculation exams, called the tawjihi — but the fast pace of the increase indicates that change is underway.
In recent weeks, the Education Ministry and police have begun to implement a plan to extend the school day in 10 East Jerusalem high schools to either 4 P.M. or 6 P.M. in a bid to reduce the violence that has plagued East Jerusalem this year.