Although Israel as a whole is a highly educated country, its Arab minority does not fare as well in attaining higher education. Arabs and Jews typically attend separate schools, and the state education budget is unevenly skewed towards funding Jewish schools. Unequal access to education has long term consequences and in most cases result in poverty and unemployment of Arab minorities.
An Educated Nation
Education in Israel is treated with importance. Consequently, the nation is a leader among OECD members for the percentage of citizens completing tertiary education. According to the 2013 OECD publication, 46 percent of Israelis aged from 25 to 64 hold a post-secondary degree, well above the group’s average of 32 percent. Additionally, Israel’s population is younger than the average. Over 42 percent of the population is younger than 25, providing a continuous stream of students and young professionals that are entering the workforce.
A precursor and important supplement to tertiary education in Israel is mandatory military service. Conscription begins at the age of 18, lasting three years for men and two years for women. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is structured into different units, with conscripts sorted among them based on military and technical aptitude. The most prestigious IDF unit is the Talpiot, noted for its scientific innovation. It combines military service with rigorous science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, giving its participants transferrable skills for university education and preparing them for the job market.
Challenges in Education in Israel
Primary education in Israel tends to be highly segregated. This segregation is representative of Israel as a whole as, according to Foreign Policy Magazine, 90 percent of Arab-Israelis live in all Arab communities. Separating children by ethnicity and religion limits their ability to learn about one another’s culture firsthand.
In addition to learning in isolation from their Jewish counterparts, Arab-Israeli schools receive less funding and do not meet the same educational benchmarks. Whether measured in standardized test scores, high school graduation rates or university matriculation, Arab-Israelis consistently lag behind. One of the more startling statistics regarding education in Israel is the per-pupil funding figure that can be almost 88 percent lower than that of a Jewish student. Furthermore, Arab-Israelis are not required to serve in the IDF, depriving them of the vocational training Jewish soldiers receive.
Consequences on the Country
Poverty in Israel is high compared to other Western industrialized nations and especially pronounced among Arabs. While poverty rates are decreasing, nearly half (49.4 percent) of Israel’s Arab population lives below the poverty line. Lack of education and underemployment plays a key role in Israel’s poverty rate, as over half of the poor families are working families.
Poverty creates a bad environment and makes people prone to crime, and the poverty present in Arab communities contributes to higher crime rates than Israel’s average. Most alarming is the increase in violent crime, including weapons violations and assaults. According to a 2018 article published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Arab citizens were involved in 40 percent of violent offenses and in 60 percent of the murder cases in the country, despite only comprising 20 percent of Israel’s population. As many Arab-Israelis feel marginalized socio-economically, some resort to violence as a means to make ends meet.
Solutions to the Problem
Both the Israeli government and nongovernmental organizations are working to ameliorate the educational gap between Arabs and Jews. One nongovernmental organization called Hand in Hand that serves as a center for Jewish-Arab education in Israel strives to bring Arabs and Jews together in the classroom. According to the organization’s mission statement, it currently operates in six schools, with the goal of expanding in at least 10 schools and 20,000 pupils in the next decade.
In terms of governmental reforms, Minister of Education Naftali Bennett pushes for both increased spending and a curriculum overhaul. The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel’s 2019 education budget of around $140 billion will surpass its defense budget. This is an astonishing development for a country that faces a vast array of security threats in its immediate vicinity.
Addressing the academic gap between Jewish and Arabic students, Bennett urges Arab schools to emphasize Hebrew and English instruction claiming that its absence is a barrier to future employment. The future of education in Israel depends both on integrating Arab students with their Jewish counterparts and addressing the structural problems present in underperforming schools.
– Joseph Banish