Two years after the reform in mathematics studies, the education minister this week presented a reform in English studies. However, among the numerous challenges and reforms that education officials discuss anew every year when the school year begins, it behooves them to return to clause 11 in the State Education Law, which stipulates that one of its purposes is “to know the language, culture, history, heritage and unique tradition of the Arab population.”
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For years the Education Ministry avoided strengthening the status of the Arabic tongue. Really teaching it, combining language and culture, in Jewish schools could be an important tool in lowering the walls of seclusion and calming the waves of hostility between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority. It could serve as an antidote to the trends threatening to destroy society in Israel.
Teaching Arabic has a marginal status in the Jewish-Israeli education system. Although the Education Ministry stipulates that teaching Arabic is compulsory in grades 7-9, the directive isn’t carried out fully, especially in state-religious schools. The Education Ministry’s failure to enforce its own directives seeps down, conveying the message that Arabic isn’t important. Two years ago a negligible minority of some 2,500 students took the expanded matriculation exams in this language.
None of the education ministers have done much to strengthen Arabic studies. None had the courage and desire to see the language as a bridge between groups. In the absence of a cultural emphasis, the justification to study Arabic for security reasons has grown. The army gives lessons and workshops in schools, making it difficult to enable Arab teachers to participate in teaching the language.
Thanks to the participation of Arab teachers, two Arabic study programs for elementary school, developed by civil organizations and approved by the Education Ministry last year, have been successful.
The programs have not only strengthened students’ command of the spoken language, but they led to a change in attitudes to the language and to Arabs.
In view of the reality outside the school, this is an extraordinary achievement and it carries an important lesson. If it only wanted to, the education system is capable of changing reality. Expanding the study of Arabic in this spirit is the best gift the Education Ministry could give the new school year.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.