Recent statements given by Israel’s new education minister Shai Piron could be the first sign that the country’s government is preparing to take the issue of Arab education seriously. In Haaretz, Or Kashti writes that the first comments made during the meeting of the Knesset’s Education, Culture and Sports Committee went almost unnoticed, but nonetheless indicated a change in approach from the previous government.
Piron said that one of the ministry’s top priorities will be to close the education gap between Israel’s Jewish and Arab residents. Prior to Piron’s commitment, the ministry had put forth little but outrage over the fact that the gaps existed, with no official plan to narrow them or to provide better academic opportunities to Arab students. Piron has now signaled that this will change.
For Piron’s statements to the committee to symbolize a new policy, he will have to change the ministry’s approach to the Arab population. The first change must take place in the budget: the way schools are budgeted now discriminates against Arab education. Arab students from low socioeconomic backgrounds receive few hours and less nurturing than Jewish students of comparable background. Closing the gaps requires a change in the method and the transfer of millions of shekels for the good of Arab students. That is something even Yuli Tamir flinched from, and Gideon Sa’ar fled from it.
One of the changes that members of the Arab community have long requested is the creation of an Arab education authority under the auspices of the Education Ministry — not just be a shingle on the door, but fully funded and empowered to take steps to improve Israeli Arabs’ educational lot.
Recruiting more Arab teachers and administrators, especially to work in districts where the student numbers are overwhelmingly Arab, could be another appealing solution.
Kashti also criticized the government’s efforts to promote nationalism, which he calls “right-wing indoctrination.”
A change is also needed in the curriculum and in educational initiatives. Over the past four years, Jewish schools were subjected to a great deal of right-wing indoctrination. Teachers risked disciplinary hearings at the local commissars’ offices. The school system is full of a mixture of strong national and religious feeling as imparted in heritage classes, field trips to Hebron and attempts to raise motivation to serve in the IDF. We can start by updating the Education Ministry’s work plan, which defines waving the flag and singing the national anthem as activities for starting the day in kindergartens (“before special days”) as a top-priority goal in early-childhood education.