Ministry Refusing to Cooperate With New Arab Education Body

Council to discuss history and civics curriculum, textbooks translated from Hebrew, high drop-out rate among Arab students.

The founding conference for an Arab pedagogical council is to be held this fall, several weeks after the scheduled September 1 start of the school year. The purpose of the new, independent body is to formulate a comprehensive educational policy for the country's Arab community. Among the issues on the council's agenda are the history and civics curriculum taught in the schools, the textbooks translated from Hebrew and the high drop-out rate and low matriculation rate among Arab students.

"For 60 years now, the Education Ministry has conducted a policy of 'gap management' - rather than gap solutions," said Dr. Ayman Agbaria of the University of Haifa and Beit Berl College, who heads the council. The ministry is currently refusing to cooperate with the new initiative.

In a statement, the ministry said a decision was made recently to integrate Arab academics into the subject committees of its Pedagogical Secretariat as well as to appoint a committee to examine the educational achievements of Arab students in the core subjects. The ministry said some of the committee's recommendations will be implemented in the coming school year, including changes in teacher training and emphasizing language acquisition skills starting in the first grade.

From next week and until the conference itself , a campaign is to run in the local Arabic press to publicize the plans. In addition, hundreds of Jewish and Arab public figures are being recruited to pressure the ministry into recognizing the council. Letters were sent recently to principals in the Arab sector, asking them to discuss the aims and program of the council with their teachers.

A group of about 15 Arab educators are drafting position papers on a number of topics, and there is a plan to recruit Jewish educators into the council.

The council's founders seek to put special emphasis on the following questions in connection to the educational curricula:

* What should be included in history lessons, especially regarding the pre-1948 period and the "refugee problem"

* How civics should be taught (beyond systems of government and memorizing the principles of "the Jewish, democratic state)

Other issues on the agenda include Arabic language acquisition and instructional methods, training for principals, attitudes toward women in the Arab community and relations among Muslims, Druze and Bedouin.

Arab educators have attempted, without success, to create an autonomous educational administration similar to that in the national-religious sector. The Education Ministry appears to be reluctant to bring representatives of the Arab community into its decision making regarding "sensitive" topics.

Agbaria says the creation of the council is "the right of any national minority, according to international law, for example to determine the values by which its children are educated. But it also concerns teachers' need for an organization in the field that can serve as a 'compass,' to determine how the curriculum and textbooks should be, an organization that will issue a 'seal of approval.' In the Education Ministry today there is not even a single body that reviews the Arab sector in a system-wide manner, and the General Educational Secretariat barely deals with these issues," Agbaria said.

Beyond the expected clash with the ministry that the new council can expect, Agbaria says the initiative also expresses "a great internal challenge for the Arab sector. We don't want to recycle the usual statements according to which the establishment is solely responsible for the poor state of Arab education. Instead of passivity and victimhood, the time has come to take responsibility," he said.