Teachers in training will have to complete anti-racism and coexistence training beginning next academic year, in a program designed by Israel's education and justice ministries.
The initiative, part of a series of changes to teacher training drawn up by the Council for Higher Education in Israel, will require colleges to formulate a protocol for handling racism on campus and ensure that all signs and forms are in Arabic as well as Hebrew
The new program will cover intergroup tensions — between Jews and Arabs and the secular and religious — and will mandate institutions to set up diversity targets for students, promote meetings between students from different backgrounds and create frameworks to allow students to learn Arabic. The Education Ministry will allocate funding in accordance with each institution's approved program.
A detailed prospectus for the program, written by the Education Ministry and the Justice Ministry's Anti-Racism Department, will be sent to the country's teacher training institutions within the next few days.
An important aspect of the program is that lecturers will be encouraged to engage with controversial issues in the classroom, with the aim of helping the country's future teachers feel comfortable doing the same in their own classrooms.
"Out of an understanding that controversial issues, which are highly charged emotionally, socially and politically, will inevitably arise in educational institutions, it is important to give teachers the tools to address them in a way that allows listening, a broadening of perspectives and respectful discourse even when there is disagreement," the prospectus says.
Many teachers have previously said they are hesitant to weigh in on controversial issues in the classroom, out of fear that the system will not support them in the face of complaints from parents or other teachers.
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Colleges will be asked to put the goals of the new program into practice across the curriculum, rather than making do with a single course on the subject. Specifically, teacher training programs will be asked to engage with hot-button topics in Israeli society from various perspectives and to help students develop the skills for participating in group discussions of sensitive issues.
They will also be asked to deal with questions of identity – both their own and those of other communities in Israel – so that they can deal with these issues as they affect their future students
According to data collected recently by social psychology research nonprofit the aChord Center, in schools whose students reported tolerant and respectful dialogue with the opposite identity group – Jewish or Arab – students reported feeling empathy for that group. The findings may demonstrate the importance of training teachers in these techniques.
Commenting on said the new program Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton said: "Israeli society is a rich cultural mosaic, but unfortunately it also experiences rifts and baseless hatred. When we come to pave the way for educators – principled persons by their very choice of profession, who will face young, vulnerable children of all ethnicities, religions, genders and sexual orientations – tolerance is the necessary foundation for our coexistence.
"The new training will provide a high-quality toolbox that will make it possible to give the next generations an education suited to our multicultural society."