The issue of education related to Arab citizens of Israel encompasses the full range of early-childhood through higher education and beyond. It touches on questions of educational content and national identity, closing socio-economic gaps and enhancing access to the advanced economy, family life and cultural traditions.
Under the Ministry of Education, Arab and Jewish public school students (K-12), with few exceptions, are educated in separate streams—Hebrew and Arabic. Aside from primary language, the curriculum is almost identical in math, sciences and English, with differences in the humanities. Today, significant performance gaps between the Hebrew and Arabic-speaking schools and poor representation of Arab students in higher educational institutions, is drawing concern among civil society and government leaders who identify educational achievement as a prerequisite for entering Israel’s advanced economy, closing socio-economic gaps, and stemming related economic losses. Performance gaps are attributed to numerous factors, not least of which are unequal budget allocations and the fact that the majority of Arab students live in Israel’s poorest localities and have access to fewer resources and poorer infrastructure compared to the majority of students in the Hebrew secular stream.
In recent years the government has greatly increased investments into closing educational gaps and making sure Arabic public schools benefit from nationwide initiatives to raise the general level of education. In 2012, Israel’s Council for Higher Education launched one of the largest and the most comprehensive government initiatives, the Six-Year Plan to Enhance Access to Higher Education for Arab Students, which allocates NIS 305 million to remove barriers and bridge opportunity gaps across the entire educational spectrum. (Read more about this plan in the Task Force Briefing Paper on Higher Education.)
In addition, many civil society organizations view the fact that Jewish and Arab children have few opportunities to interact as a problem for future social cohesion. They work to initiate special programs in elementary and high schools that establish contact and build mutual awareness among Arab and Jewish students in Israel (i.e. by creating shared society curricula in civics, opportunities for dialogue and encounters, opening bilingual schools, making Arabic language education available in Jewish schools, and more.). In this vein, the Ministry of Education recently launched a few system-wide programs that also strengthen shared society, most notably, the inauguration of “The Other is Me” as the national educational theme for 2013/14 and 2014/15 along with a website, dedicated school days, teaching materials and more. (Read more about these initiatives in the Task Force Briefing Paper on Shared Society.)