A new method of budgeting for students at teacher training colleges will provide Arabic speaking students in the north of the country with just over half the budget that Jewish trainee teachers will receive.
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The new program is being implemented by the Education Ministry as a means of encouraging students to study subjects for which there is a lack of teachers, such as mathematics and science.
But in addition to incentivizing students to study subjects for which there is high demand by providing an additional per-student budget, the ministry has decided that the per-student budget for Arabic-speaking trainee teachers in colleges in the north will be only 56 percent of that received by Jewish students.
The new system will not be instituted in the south of the country, where there is a shortage of Bedouin teachers, according to the ministry.
The explanation given by the ministry is that there is an excess of student teachers in the Arabic sector in the north and the goal of the project is to reduce the number of Arabic-speakers doing teacher training in the region.
The new budgetary model is based on the subject studied. But for Arabic-speakers in the north their ethnicity is an additional criterion – and leads to a lower budget.
"Differentiating on the basis of subject makes sense," said the head of one of the teacher training colleges. "But allocating the budget on the basis of the student's origin is peculiar, in my opinion, and I don’t think it's the sort of decision a state institution can make and stand behind."
The main victims of the program will be the Arab teacher training colleges, where all the students are Arabic-speaking, which will receive only 56 percent of the supplementary per-student budget. Even if the college has students who are studying the subjects for which demand is high, such as mathematics and science, the supplementary budget they receive for those students will be only 56 percent of their Jewish counterparts.
"In my view it's real racism," said a senior official at one of the Arab teacher training colleges. "There's no other explanation for it."
He added that when he and others complained to the Education Ministry that its decision was racist, "they told us that it's because of the Arab Knesset members, who say constantly that there is a glut of Arab teachers and it's a problem. And they asked that we stop training teachers."
"Most of our students are women," the official continued. "In other words, we're not only talking about studies for the purpose of finding work, but about the empowerment of Arab women. What will happen now – the women won't work and won't get an education either?
"Because there's no work, they're not entitled to get an education? The problem of unemployment exists in the Arab community in other areas as well. Not only in education."
The new budgetary model was presented to the heads of teacher training colleges about two years ago, but at the time it only differentiated between subjects. This year, ahead of the implementation of the new system, college heads were informed that there would also be differentiation on the basis of student origin and that Arab students in colleges in the north would receive only 56 percent of the per-student budget.
"We were asked to provide detailed lists of students who have registered and, to my surprise, the ministry knew exactly who was Arab and would get less," a college source said.
"We were told that that the number of teaching graduates in the Arab sector was higher than the requirement for teachers," another source said. "The problem is that they have decided give a lower budget to Arabic-speakers in all subjects and only in the north.
"Some of the Bedouin student teachers studying with us in the north afterwards find jobs in the south. What are we meant to do – to tell an Arabic-speaker that he can't study with us? Or ask him to pay more because he speaks Arabic?"
There are some 10,000 unemployed Arab teachers in Israel who have been unable to find jobs in Arab schools, according to estimates. Very few Arab teachers are employed in Jewish schools, which suffer from a lack of teachers in mathematics, science and English.
In 2013, then-education minister Shay Piron initiated a plan to place 500 Arab teachers in Jewish schools, but it was not successful. By 2015, only some 200 Arab mathematics, science and English teachers were teaching in Jewish schools. Most of the Arab teachers currently in Jewish schools teach Arabic.
"It takes a lot of insensitivity and cold-heartedness to make such a racist and stupid decision," said MK Yousef Jabareen of the Joint List. "The message is that Arab students in teacher training colleges are labeled as inferior teachers."
"The Arab education system lacks tens of thousands of teaching hours compared to its Jewish counterpart, both for the implementation of differential budgeting and to ensure an equal budget in high schools. If the Education Ministry was interested in true equality and would allocate a reasonable amount of teaching hours, thousands of Arab teachers would be absorbed in the system and there would no longer be a problem of excess teachers."
"There are too many Arab teachers in the north and they are continuing to do teacher training en masse," said Eyal Ram, deputy manager of education workers in the Education Ministry. "In the south, there aren’t enough Bedouin teachers As I see it, we are doing the right thing with taxpayer money. There are places with too many teachers and places where they are seriously lacking. We need to adjust the system correctly. That's our job. Clearly, it wasn't easy for me, but we need to relate to the reality because today we are bluffing the Arab population. They study but there are no jobs."
"If there was tremendous movement between the Hebrew and Arabic education systems, it would be great," Ram continued. "We've made huge efforts to have Arab teachers work in the Jewish system. But in general, Arab teachers go to work in Arab education and Jews in Jewish education. That's the reality."