Children at Beersheba’s Hagar bilingual school read together.
(photo credit: HAGAR: JEWISH-ARAB EDUCATION FOR EQUALITY)
Education Minister and Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett said that in the coming year the Education Ministry will be rolling out a program called “Continuous Hebrew” in which Arab students will begin learning Hebrew as a compulsory subject beginning in kindergarten.
The program aims to improve oral Hebrew language abilities and will run from kindergarten through Grade 12, costing the ministry NIS 30 million a year.
Bennett said the decision was meant to narrow the country’s social gaps.
“The decision for Hebrew to be taught in kindergartens in the Arab sector was taken with a view to the children’s future,” Bennett said. “We believe that the improvement of Hebrew among Arab students will result in their ability to more easily integrate into the Israeli workforce, and economy and society at large.”
Education Ministry statistics show 93 percent of sixth-grade Arab students think that knowing Hebrew will help them succeed in the future. Only 47% of the students have exposure to Hebrew outside school; 26% read newspapers in Hebrew and 16% watch Hebrew television programs.
In May, MK Oren Hazan proposed a bill requiring all pupils to study Arabic from the first grade.
The legislation says schools in all sectors of society must learn Hebrew and Arabic – the country’s official languages – from grade 1 onward.
“Just as it cannot be that Arab citizens complete 12 years of school without knowing Hebrew, the existing situation, in which Jewish citizens complete 12 years of school without knowing Arabic, cannot continue,” Hazan wrote in the bill’s explanatory portion.
The Likud MK pointed out that Arabic is on street signs and used by public institutions and government offices.
Mandatory Arabic classes “will allow students and citizens to understand one another,” he said. “Knowing the language of the other is the basis for understanding and mutual respect, which are necessary in the current situation in Israel.”
According to Hazan, knowing Arabic will help Jewish Israelis understand Israeli Arabs’ culture and social codes.
“Knowing the language and being able to communicate with different people can increase our sense of security and serve as a bridge between people,” he added.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.