The education chapter of a five-year work plan for Israel’s Arab community is in its final stages of preparation. It will provide billions of shekels in government spending for thousands of new classrooms as well as enhanced Hebrew and Arabic language instruction and also apparently, for the first time, instruction on Arab identity.
The plan is expected to be presented in a few weeks’ time and officials at the education, finance and social equality ministries are at work finalizing how 9.4 billion shekels ($3 billion) in government spending will be allocated to a long list of goals. It’s part of a 30 billion shekel, five-year plan that the Israeli cabinet approved in October and which is to run through 2026. About a third of the funding is to be earmarked for education in the Arab community.
In addition to the classroom construction, priority will be given to teaching students Hebrew, particularly spoken Hebrew, but also Arabic; reducing disparities in government funding; developing informal education; and establishing a support system for local education departments in Arab towns. And for the first time, the plan also apparently includes addressing questions involving Arab identity.
One innovation in the planning process has been the inclusion of representatives from Arab local governments at meetings over the summer – although their involvement has slackened somewhat since. One of the participants has been the chairman of the Arab education monitoring committee, Dr. Sharaf Hassan.
Sources involved in the matter describe an exceptional process. The work plan rather generally describes areas of action and the necessary funding. In the weeks that preceded the cabinet decision, and even more so since – a complex process has been pursued involving a number of departments at the education and social equality ministries, along with officials from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Finance Ministry budget division and other officials.
The director general of the Education Ministry at the time, Yigal Slovik, participated in some of the meetings – and his firing two weeks ago is expected to delay the process somewhat.
It is difficult to remember when a strategic discussion similar to this one was conducted on Arab education in Israel. It has included a survey of the (many) weaknesses in the system and suggested ways to address them – through funding and educational or regulatory intervention. Some 10 subcommittees were established as part of the process, on matters such as teaching Arabic and Hebrew, early childhood education, building and renovating schools, teacher training and technology education.
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Subcommittees were also established on educational obstacles in local government, informal education, problems involving students dropping out and school violence as well as adapting the curriculum for Arab students on what was described as “issues of identity and values.” There had never before been such a discussion at the Education Ministry on this last issue. The committees included the representation from the country’s Arab mayors as well as Arab researchers.
The educational component of the five-year plan calls for about a quarter of the Education Ministry’s budget to be directed to the Arab community, about the same as the percentage of Arab students among the country’s overall student population. That’s more than the 18 percent of spending in the five-year plan that ended in 2020.
About 6 billion shekels from the new program will be directed to reducing Education Ministry funding disparities between Jewish and Arab schools. About two-thirds of the sum is earmarked for elementary schools and junior highs, and the rest for high schools.
Over the past decade, the gap has gradually narrowed in elementary schools and junior highs, but in Grades 10 through 12, it has remained quite significant. According to one source, the change in the funding formula for elementary schools and junior high schools was supposed to have become part of the ministry’s base budget rather than being considered a funding supplement.
Changing the system of funding is supposed to bring the Arab students closer to the level of funding that students in Jewish nonreligious state schools receive. About 2.4 million shekels of the funding is to be used to build 4,300 new classrooms and preschools in Arab communities and to refurbish schools there.
“Advanced pedagogy means nothing if the children attend a school built in the 1950s that was last renovated 20 years ago,” an official involved in the deliberations said. In light of serious problems involving planning and construction in Arab communities in general, an interministerial committee is expected to recommend special funding to compensate for the expropriation of land for new school construction.
Another recommendation is for an outside entity to coordinate and handle requests submitted by Arab towns to the Education Ministry and Israel’s Planning Administration, in an attempt to shorten the bureaucratic process. Another expensive joint project between the government, philanthropic foundations and nonprofits is to provide assistance to education departments in Arab towns and to devise strategic plans for the next decade.
“There are acute problems in the education departments. A large number of them are not staffed or the people there are not appropriate for their jobs,” an Education Ministry official said. Based on past experience, this is one of the plans that could lead to conflict further down the line.