Arab Students in Israel Twice as Likely to Drop Out Than Jewish Peers

23,178 Israeli students dropped out during the 2017-2018 school year

High school students in Tel Aviv, November 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

The dropout rate for junior high and high school students in Israel’s Arab schools is almost twice as high as that of students in Jewish schools, a report released Tuesday by the Israel National Council for the Child shows.

Over the course of the 2017-2018 school year, 23,178 Israeli students dropped out of school, most of them from the seventh through twelfth grades. 14,845 of the students who dropped out attended Jewish schools, and 8,333 dropped out of Arab schools.

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The national dropout rate for the period was 2.2 percent, a drop from a decade ago, when it stood at 2.7 percent. In the country’s Jewish schools, including the state, national religious and Haredi tracks, the dropout rate was 1.6 percent for the 2017-2018 school year for students in seventh grade through high school. For students in the same grades in the Arab educational system, though, the dropout rate was 2.9 percent.

About 15,800 high school students drop out a year in Israel, on average, about 1.9 percent of all students their age. Another 7,300 drop out of elementary schools, 0.8 percent. The gap between Arab and Jewish schools narrows for grades one through six, but the dropout rate for Arab schools is still higher: 0.9 percent, compared to 0.74 percent in Jewish schools.

In all school systems and at all ages, the dropout rate for boys is three times higher than that of girls. The dropout rate in Haredi schools is also higher than in other Jewish schools, five percent compared to only 1.2 percent for state and national religious schools. But though those numbers seem dire, the authors of the report noted that in most cases, these Haredi students actually left school for yeshivas, which are not supervised by the Education Ministry.

Some of the high school students who dropped out of the formal education system continue their education in vocational schools under the supervision of the Labor and Social Services Ministry – but 1.6 percent of students, about 9,500 dropouts, abandoned their studies completely.

Education Ministry professionals say that the move from elementary school to junior high school is a critical juncture that can drive students to abandon their studies. The heavy course load, the large range of subjects and the fact that these schools are much bigger and have a larger staff – all can trigger students to drop out. The Education Ministry also notes that a number of personal issues can lead to students leaving school: Learning disabilities, struggling in school and personal traumas, such as a death in the family, an accident, illness, moving house frequently, unemployment or emigration.

In Jewish schools, for example, the report says that new immigrants drop out at over twice the rate of Israeli-born students. The more recently they immigrated, the higher the chances of dropping out: 5.3 percent of students who moved to Israel after 2010 dropped out of the school system, compared to 2.7 percent of immigrants who had been here longer.

The Education Ministry says that about 11 percent of students fit the profile of potentially dropping out. To combat this issue, the ministry set up learning tracks that cater to students with difficulties. The ministry also established other special classes for students who dropped out of those classes, intended for students who left formal educational frameworks but still want to go to school, but on a less frequent schedule.

The ministry employs 660 truancy officers, whose job is to follow up with students who have dropped out or are at risk of doing so and to try and find them an appropriate educational framework. The truancy officers handled the cases of 72,000 students during the 2017-18 school year, the National Council for the Child report says.

The figures in the report relate only to “known dropouts”: students who officially no longer belong to the Israeli state school system. The Education Ministry describes thousands of other students as “hidden dropouts,” young people who occasionally attend class but are frequently absent and do not actively participate in lessons. The ministry recently began work on a system that would provide an early warning about students with frequent absences, so as to help them find a more appropriate educational framework and prevent them from dropping out of school entirely.

Dr. Thabet Abu Rass and Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu, joint general managers of the Abraham Initiatives, an NGO that works to advance equality between Arabs and Jews, said that the data is unsurprising to anyone familiar with the Arab education system. It “suffers both from budgetary discrimination and the outdated teaching methods customary to it. This is the very expected outcome of segregation between school systems – there is no such thing as separate but equal,” they said in a statement released Tuesday.

The Education Ministry, they say, “must invest manpower and funds to erase the allocation gaps, and to work to establish a single official education system, Jewish-Arab, that will not allow for gaps according to national background.”