Opinion

Arab Education Is Our Responsibility

It's not enough to blame the state for the poor results of Arab students in Israel: The community needs to take action too

Arab students in the Amal school, Tayibe, northern Israel, December 3, 2019
Tomer Appelbaum

I confess I didn’t fall off my chair when I heard the report about the jump in the gaps between the achievements of Jewish and Arab students. The fewer resources you invest, the less you get. When the state invests an average of 24,500 shekels in an Arab high school student compared to 31,300 shekels in a Jewish one, or 40,300 shekels if that student goes to a Jewish religious school, it’s a foregone conclusion that the Arab student’s achievements will be inferior.

But we, as the Arab community, would be wrong to put the blame only on financial inequality. Part of the blame lies with us as well.

The discrimination of Israel’s Arab citizens doesn’t begin with the state budget but with the unwillingness of large parts of Israeli society to give them the employment opportunities to prove themselves and their abilities. This happens in the private sector due to racism, either explicit or less explicit, but no less offensive. It also happens in the public sector, which isn’t keeping up – and probably isn’t really trying to – with the modest integration targets set by the Civil Service Commission.

The exclusion of Arabs from attractive posts in the private and public sectors has turned the local municipalities and their education systems into almost the only places where Arab citizens have a possibility to advance. So while the teaching profession isn’t especially in demand in the Jewish community, the opposite is true in the Arab community, where the education system is one of the few entry points into the civil service.

On the face of it, this situation, where there are numerous candidates for every teaching position, was supposed to improve the Arab education system considerably. But in reality, instead of aspiring to excellence, numerous Arab schools have become a fertile ground for appointing teachers based on nepotism.

Students in the Amal school, Tayibe, northern Israel, December 3, 2019
Tomer Appelbaum

In many cases the main consideration for landing a job or losing it is not a teacher’s qualifications but rather his or her connections and the clan they belong to. Schools often turn into a tool for political payback rather than a system that ought to strive for high quality. Another problem is the inclination of many within the Arab education system to remain planted in their position for many years, even after they’re tired and jaded, simply because they have no other alternative.

The results of the PISA exam, which is used to assess students across Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, and the huge gaps they’ve exposed between the Jewish and Arab students require the Education Ministry to do some soul-searching. At the same time, they require some consideration within Arab Israeli society as well.

The budgetary distribution is ultimately a byproduct of our Knesset representatives’ lack of political extortion ability. Until the Arab lawmakers become legitimate partners in the political game, both in the opposition and coalition, it will be impossible to wipe out the budgetary gaps.

Precisely because of this it is our duty, as members of the Arab community, as elected public officials and as mayors, to present a new vision to advance our children’s education. To release the education system from the chains of local politics and turn it into a place that aspires to staff professionalism and student excellence. To stop waiting for the state to bring about equality and start acting to bring it about ourselves.