Report Shows Sharp Drop in Students Eligible for Bagrut in Development Towns, Arab Communities

Critics say the Education Ministry has no strategic plan for narrowing the gaps among students in Israel.

In the past five years the proportion of high school graduates from Jewish development towns and from Arab communities who passed the matriculation exams has continued to decline, according to figures released last week by the Adva Center. From 2005 to 2009, the success rates for these exams, known as bagrut in Hebrew, declined by 6.9 percent for development towns and 7.8 percent in Arab communities, while remaining virtually unchanged for communities with a higher socioeconomic profile.

While the Education Ministry's figures for matriculation exams include only enrolled students, wherever possible the Adva Center includes in its calculations all 17-year-olds, including those who have dropped out of school. In 2009, one out of every five 17-year-olds was not in school.

Using Education Ministry and Central Bureau of Statistics figures as a foundation, Adva's report, "Percentage of Students Passing Matriculation Exams, by Locality 2008-2009," presents a more detailed and comprehensive picture of bagrut performance among various population groups, including affluent localities and Jewish development towns. In 2004, the last year for which full figures were available, 66.7 percent of the former were eligible for matriculation certificates, compared to just 54.2 percent of the latter. Five years later, in 2009, these figures were 66 percent and 47.3 percent, respectively. In the Arab sector, not including East Jerusalem, the bagrut success rate declined from 42.2 percent to 34.4 percent during this period. These figures point to a widening of the educational gaps between the various groups. The overall pass rate for the matriculation exam in 2009 of 46.1 percent masks and conceals these gaps.

Druze and Negev Bedouin students did make gains in the period under study, reaching pass rates of 48 percent and 29.4 percent in 2009, respectively. Because both communities are numerically small, the improvement in their performance did not have a great effect on the overall statistics.

The affluent communities include Even Yehuda, Givatayim, Herzliya, Kfar Sava, Mevasseret Zion, Modi'in and Maccabim-Reut, Ramat Hasharon, Ra'anana and Tel Aviv. Among the development towns are such communities as Ofakim, Beit She'an Beit Shemesh, Dimona, Kiryat Shmona and Sderot.

"The Education Ministry has no strategic plan for narrowing the gaps of the type that would eventually lead to students in the periphery enjoying an education similar in quality to that in the center of the country," says an educational activist, Yehuda Amihai, from an Ashkelon-area moshav. "The Education Ministry boasts of having a million projects for disadvantaged localities, but they don't add up to a single program. Such special reinforcements must not come at the expense of good teachers, not to mention that these programs mainly serve consultants and other mediating agents and don't reach the students. A good teacher is one that doesn't have special projects," Amihai said.

The Education Ministry responded: "In the past two years ministry policy has focused on giving priority to the periphery. This policy is expressed in the introduction of projects such as the National Program for Teleprocessing, special additions to core subjects and unique programs for increasing matriculation eligibility and success rates."

Ministry officials also noted that the latest figures "point to a rise in the proportion of those who passed the matriculation exams, from 44.1 percent to 46.1 percent" between 2008 and 2009.