Remedial Education Program for Bedouin Women in Israel in Danger of Closing

Activists charge: Education Ministry has a budget of 60 billion shekels but can’t find four million for Bedouin women?

Samia Elkrinawi, who studied in the adult education program for Bedouin women last year.
Eliyahu Hershovitz

The Education Ministry announced that it has not found funding for continued operation of an adult education program in the Bedouin community beyond the coming schooly year. It therefore may close in July of next year if additional funding is not forthcoming.

The program, which has a budget of about 2 million shekels ($574,000) a year, is mainly aimed at providing basic education to Bedouin women, some of whom are illiterate.

The project received an initial five-year government commitment of annual funding of about 2.2 million shekels beginning in 2012 as part of a program to promote economic development in the Bedouin community. Last year too, the Education Ministry threatened to close the program for lack of funding, but after public protests, the ministry committed to fund it for another year, through July of next year..

The program has been run by the Israel Association of Community Centers. A total of 17 classes are scheduled for the coming school year, nine of which have already opened. The other eight will be up in running shortly. A total of 340 students, most of whom are women who have not finished high school, have enrolled for the new program year.

The curriculum includes Arabic, Hebrew, English, math, citizenship and computers. There are several levels of study available, tailored for those with pre-elementary or elementary school skills, for students  with 10 years of schooling, and those who want to complete their high school diplomas. 

The Education Ministry said in response for this article that it attaches major importance to providing adult remedial education and that includes adult education for the country's Bedouin. The program is currently run in six Bedouin communities, the ministry noted, "and to the extent that the ministry receives funding on the matter, it will continue to promote it."

A source at the Israel Association of Community Centers told Haaretz he didn't understand the difficulties that have arisen from the Education Ministry's standpoint over the past two years, “especially when the amount of money is so small.” The uncertainty over funding also results in employees in the program choosing to seek jobs elsewhere, the source added.

Parliamentary question

In October 2018, the issue was raised at the Knesset in a parliamentary question by MK Itzik Shmuli (Labor). Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) responded: “I assume that this is not about 2 million shekels because it doesn’t seem to me that the Education Ministry would cancel such an important program because it didn’t have 2 million shekels.” Such a small sum could be found even by a “less senior official,” he said, adding: “I suppose that if it’s just 2 million shekels, we’ll find a way to reopen the program.”

The Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality held a conference on the matter on Tuesday in the Negev Bedouin town of Rahat, together with the Sidreh educational association for Bedouin women and the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages. Speaking at the conference, Saeed Akharumi, chairman of the High Steering Committee of Negev Arabs, demanded that the funding be found to continue to program.

It is inconceivable that a ministry with a budget of 60 billion shekels can’t find 4 million shekels for Bedouin women who have been discriminated against in funding in previous decades and are the victims of its failures, organizers said.

MK Gadeer Mreeh (Kahol Lavan) said “This is a disgrace to the State of Israel. The Education Ministry must make every effort to meet these basic needs.”