A little over a year ago, after noticing that students were experiencing
difficulties in Hebrew, educators at a Wadi Ara school for Arab students decided
to take matters into their own hands and launch an initiative aimed at improving
and strengthening the Hebrew language among students.
“We did a study and
found we had a problem when it came to achievements in Hebrew and it was
reflected in how the students spoke very quietly, the accent wasn’t right and it
was difficult for them to deal with the language,” principal of Barta’a Junior
High School, Raed Kabha told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
As Kabha and
one of the school’s teachers and head of the language department Rammzi Kabaha
looked into what could be causing the problem, they found that it had very much
to do with the complex geographical and political situation of the
Barta’a is a town that straddles the Green Line and the Wadi Ara
Western Barta’a is under Israeli rule and is part of the Haifa
District, while eastern Barta’a, in the West Bank, is part of the Palestinian
Residents on the Israeli side hold Israeli identity cards and
are Arab- Israelis.
On the Palestinian side, most residents have
Palestinian cards, but a significant percentage also possess Israeli
To receive Israeli citizenship, many Palestinian men from eastern
Barta’a married Arab-Israeli women from the western part of town. Some of their
children, who have Israeli identity cards, go to school at Barta’a Junior High
School, in western Barta’a.
“Many of these families moved from the
Palestinian side to the Israeli side so that their children will study within
Israel and will remain with an Israeli ID,” Kabha explained.
“A third of
the students at school are [the] offspring of mixed marriages between both sides
of the village.”
At the school, where studies are conducted in Arabic and
follow the curriculum of the Israeli Education Ministry, Hebrew is the second
official language, taught from the first grade.
Kabha and Kabaha noticed
that the children’s motivation to learn Hebrew was very low, mostly due to the
negative connotations they associated with it, being residents of a village
which literally embodies the Israeli-Palestinian divide.
“They view the
language as an enemy language, as an occupation language,” Kabha said,” They
also have no parental support or help with it.”
“In terms of ideology and
values, the kids are very much divided,” Kabaha added, “They feel like the don’t
“The kid lives the divide, he sees the reality of the
checkpoints on a daily basis,” he continued, “One the one hand they see the
developed country of Israel and want to learn the language, but their
environment is not supportive.”
To solve the issue, the two educators
approached the Fund for Innovative Teaching which aims at empowering teachers in
Israel while fostering creativity and innovation in education by providing
financial grants to develop creative ideas that can be implemented within the
With the help of the Fund, Kabaha, who teaches in the
seventh, eighth and ninth grades at Barta’a Junior High School, initiated a
student counselor program. This consists of some of the best Hebrew learners in
the classroom helping the weaker students by tutoring them and practicing Hebrew
conversation with them for about two hours a week.
“They do it on a
voluntary basis,” Kabaha explained. “We asked them who was willing to help
others in Hebrew and they divided into teams and they can choose whose team they
want to be on, we are not forcing them.”
Kahaba stressed that learning
with classmates makes students feel more comfortable and less embarrassed when
In addition, the school is also working to present the
language to the students in a more positive light. It exposes them to the values
common to Israelis and Palestinians, discusses tolerance and coexistence and
organizes visits to Jewish schools. Barta’a students get to interact with native
Hebrew speakers by engaging in various activities including art and
The school also regularly convenes parents to meetings in order to
ensure that they support the children’s learning at home.
slowly, they are getting better,” Kahaba told the Post, “it’s like they broke
the obstacle of fear of speaking Hebrew.”
He added that many of the
students have started talking about studying in Israeli universities when they
finish high school, something that until now had never been considered an option
for them. Most of Barta’a students go on to study at universities in the West
Bank or in neighboring countries such as Jordan.
“It’s very emotional to
see them dare to speak,” Kabaha said, “even if they make mistakes, it doesn’t
matter, they speak, they start seeing Hebrew as an important official
“We have opened a door for them to adjust to Israeli society,”
Kabaha and Kabha’s initiative, which they hope to expand in the
future, is one of 40 original projects annually selected by the Fund for
Innovative Teaching, which receives about 400 applications a
Executive director of the fund, Yosefa Dar, explained that the
grants are given for innovative activities and initiatives created in response
to a problem in the classroom.
“This method encourages teachers to
diagnose learning or social difficulties in classes and develop original
initiatives designed to improve learning and increase curiosity and motivation
among students,” Dar told the Post
The Fund for Innovative Teaching
works in partnership with the Education Ministry and receives donations from
philanthropic foundations, including the Beracha Foundation.