Study: Arab Girls Closing Gaps With Jewish Sector, but Boys Still Lag

Arab school girls score almost 5.5 points higher than average grade of Jewish boys, according to statistical analysis comparing children in similar economic conditions.

Moti Milrod

Despite the statistics of the Meitzav exam (a nationwide achievement test for fifth- and eighth-graders) and eligibility for matriculation, which show massive gaps between Jewish and Arab students, several new studies reveal that the situation is not black and white. Apparently in the Arab sector the girls’ achievements are closer to those of the Jewish sector, and if the socioeconomic difference between the two populations are factored in, the girls are getting even closer.

Naomi Friedman Sokuler, a doctoral student in the economics department at Ben-Gurion University, who is conducting a study on the subject, explained, “The Jewish population is stronger than the Arab population in socioeconomic terms, so a comparison between the populations is a comparison between wealthier Jews and poor Arabs.” She added that she is doing a statistical analysis comparing a Jews and Arabs in similar economic conditions.

“In such an analysis it turns out that Arab boys are miles behind the girls, and Jewish boys and Arab girls are similar except in the English matriculation exam, which is a major barrier to higher education. If we subtract the family background, the achievements of the girls in the Arab educational system are similar to those of the boys in the Jewish system in every subject,” she said.

Friedman Sokuler’s study, which was presented last week at a conference on “Measurement and evaluation in the service of learning” at the Van Leer Institute, indicates that after subtracting the socioeconomic difference, the math grades of Arab girls are almost 5.5 points (out of 100) higher than the average grade of boys in the Jewish sector. The study also indicates that 90 percent of the girls in the Arab sector take the matriculation exam, compared to 70 percent of Arab boys. However, only 50 percent of these girls are eligible for a matriculation certificate, compared to less than 30 percent of Arab boys and almost 60 percent of Jewish boys.

Another interesting pattern that was discovered in a study by the Science and Technology Ministry demonstrates that Arab girls have a greater preference for the sciences than do Jewish girls. As opposed to the Jewish sector, where girls constitute only about 30 percent in engineering tracks, in Arab society 54 percent of girls study engineering compared to 46 percent of boys. But when they come to choose a profession to study in college or university, only about 10 percent of Arab women choose science and technology, preferring education (more than 30 percent), social sciences (about 23 percent) and paramedical professions (about 12 percent).

A new Science and Technology Ministry program, Female Scientists of the Future, which is in its second year, is designed to help girls from both the Jewish and Arab sectors choose a scientific profession already in high school. This year about 400 girls are participating in the program, which is held in cooperation with the non-profit Yedidim organization. About half the girls are Arabs and Druze.