Bedouin Education Conference, "The Change is Made Toget...

Bedouin Education Conference, "The Change is Made Together" Held by Teach First Israel

January 15, 2018

On January 3, 2018, Teach First Israel (TFI)—which works to enhance the quality of education and promote equal opportunity for pupils in the country's socio-geographic periphery—held a conference at Ben-Gurion University's Jusidman Science Center for Youth on TFI's work with the Bedouin community in Israel. The conference brought together educators, civil society and government leaders to share knowledge about improving quality and access to education in Bedouin society at large. Teach First Israel, part of the global Teach for All Network, was established in 2010 as a joint effort of the Ministry of Education, JDC-Israel, Ha-Kol Hinuch, and the Naomi Foundation and has been working in the Bedouin community since 2014.

The Bedouin community suffers from the highest poverty and unemployment rates in Israel, with per-capita income at 50% of general Arab society and 22% of the national average, and over 50% unemployment. It is also among the youngest in Israel with 60% of Bedouins under the age of 18—70% of which are defined "poor." Most Bedouin pupils suffer from limited access to quality educational resources, from proper school buildings and transportation to informal education opportunities and academic and professional role models. Bedouin youth present high dropout rates (28.9%), low rates of matriculation eligibility (30.3% compared to 47.8% in general Arab society), and even lower rates of eligibility for higher education institutions (22% versus 38% among Arabs and 53% among Jews).  

In the past decade, the Government of Israel has prioritized the improvement of education in Bedouin society as part of significant efforts toward its socio-economic development, most recently through Government Resolution 2397, passed in 2017, which allocates roughly NIS 1.14 billion for this purpose. 

TFI has thirty-two Arab educators from Israel’s Bedouin society and 20 Arab educators from the center and north placed in affiliated public schools in the Negev. It receives 70% of its budget from the Ministry of Education, and works to transform schools of low socio-economic status and their surrounding communities through building and training a cadre of quality teachers and educational leaders.

At the conference, representatives from the Ministry of Education and Council for Higher Education discussed current government-supported initiatives for the improvement of Bedouin education and academic performance, along with TFI representatives who introduced the organization's work in Israel. 

In higher education, Prof. Shifra Sagi of the Council for Higher Education (CHE) introduced the "Gates to Higher Education" program for Bedouin students, currently implemented at Sapir Academic College in the Negev. The program, which piloted in 2015, aims to attract Bedouin students to degree programs, mitigate their high dropout rates by various support programs, shorten the average time of their degree-completion, and diversify their academic and professional focus areas (currently 46% of Bedouin students are in education and 17% in humanities). The program is part of a five-year government plan to increase the amount of Bedouin graduates by 75% by 2022—which would raise their number from 850 to 1,500. CHE is currently in discussions on scaling Gates to Higher Education and implementing the program in multiple institutions nationwide. 

In K-12 system, Ali Alkrinawi, Ministry of Education supervisor in the Bedouin community, presented in a roundtable discussion on "closing gaps and promoting achievement" initiatives designed to address barriers to formal Bedouin education, including a lack of qualified educators who are experts in their field, and the systemic plans being implemented to mitigate them. Among the initiatives discussed were the Ministry's funding of up to 200 additional teaching hours per school year in Bedouin schools, study groups run by Ministry educators for matriculation completion and improved scores on standardized tests, professional-track programs for Bedouins who have dropped out within the schools (as opposed to separate schools run by the Ministry of Economy), and the construction of new schools. Bedouin educators at the roundtable pointed to the home environment of the average Bedouin pupil as the primary barrier to their educational achievement, and emphasized the importance of providing emotional and psychological support as Bedouin teachers. 

Additional roundtable discussions at the conference were held on volunteerism, leadership, circles of influence, and vision and goals in Bedouin society. Other keynote speakers included Head of the Biotechnology Department at Sapir University Dr. Awad Abu Freih and TFI-graduate Hasan Hasan with an inspirational talk on his experience as an English teacher in Bedouin schools. The audience in the packed conference hall was comprised largely of Bedouin educators and education administrators.

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