Israeli Ministry Fails to Offer Arabic Preparatory Course for University Entrance Exam

Ministry promised online course would 'give equal opportunity for all citizens,' but rights group says it 'perpetuates gaps' by putting Arabs at a disadvantage

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File photo: The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, June 5, 2018.
File photo: The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, June 5, 2018.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Or Kashti
Or Kashti

A new free online preparatory course for the Israeli university entrance exam offered by the Social Equality Ministry is available only in Hebrew, although one third of those expected to take the exam in April will be doing so in Arabic.

Social Equality Minster Gila Gamliel pledged in January 2018 that an interactive preparatory course for the psychometric exams would be "on the way soon" in both Hebrew and Arabic, and the ministry recently said in a statement that the course "will give an equal opportunity for all citizens of Israel, from the outlying areas and the center, to vie for a place of study in Israel’s institutions of higher learning."

In an attempt to stress the importance of the project, the ministry noted that every year some 70,000 people seeking to enter a college or university in Israel take the psychometric exam and that most of them register for preparatory courses at a total cost of 300 million shekels ($80, 274,000).

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According to the Social Equality Ministry's statement, the course would be offered "free to all Israelis" beginning this month, but it is now saying that an Arabic version of the preparatory course would be launched later in 2019.

According to data from the Center for Testing and Assessment, in 2017, about a third of the psychometric exams were in Arabic, a figure that has been rising since the beginning of the previous decade. The report also says that there is an average gap of 90 points, on a scale of 200 to 800, between the grades of those taking the test in Arabic and in Hebrew in favor of the latter.

Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, approached Gamliel two weeks ago with a demand to immediately open a psychometric preparatory course in Arabic, citing ethnic discrimination. Adalah also said that opening the course in Hebrew only "will hurt the Arab candidates and perpetuate existing gaps," in integrating Arabs in academia, and subsequently in the work force.

According to attorney Nariman Shehada Zoabi, "If the Social Equality Ministry wants to fulfill the role inherent in its name, it must make an active effort to reduce gaps between people taking the test, and not deepen them."

The Social Equality Ministry responded: "Extensive resources were invested in the psychometric initiative and therefore before its further development, it is being launched as a preliminary pilot in one language for a limited number of participants. Data and feedback is now being collected from those taking the pilot course. This data will be applied in the development of the project for a greater number of participants and in additional languages, among which will be Arabic."

The ministry said funding for writing the test in Arabic had already been earmarked and its development is planned for the coming year.

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