Arab students twice as likely to quit studies amid coronavirus crisis

Arab students already face significant disadvantages compared to their Jewish counterparts, but the coronavirus has further exacerbated these.

JEWISH AND Arab students mingle on the Mount Scopus campus of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
JEWISH AND Arab students mingle on the Mount Scopus campus of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
More than twice as many Arab-Israeli students are considering quitting their studies, compared to their Jewish counterparts, due to the ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic on higher education and the broader economy, new research by The Israel Democracy Institute and the Aharon Institute for Economic Policy has found.
Overall, the survey of 675 students in higher education – colleges and universities – found that while 10% of Jewish students were considering quitting or taking a break from their studies, 22% of Arab students felt the same way.
The survey unveiled a range of socioeconomic reasons – including financial pressure, difficulties with internet infrastructure making it more difficult to connect online, and comprehension of the content due in part to the language barrier.
The researchers noted that dropout rates among Arab students were already higher than those of non-Arabs, due to a range of similar factors: poor English and Hebrew skills, the poor quality of the Arab educational system, and a low socioeconomic background among them. Additionally, many Arab students are the first in their family to enter higher education.
However, the added pressure brought about by the coronavirus pandemic appears, as a result, to hit the Arab population disproportionately. Before the pandemic, 30% of Arab students reported that their economic situation at home was “bad” to “very bad,” compared to 8% of Jewish students who said the same. Likely as a consequence, 50.4% of Arab students said they fully financed their own tuition rather than having the cost covered by family members, compared to 40.3% of Jewish students.
During the pandemic, 74% of Arab students said their family’s financial situation had deteriorated, compared to 43% of Jewish students. They were also more likely to be affected by the unemployment crisis that came about thanks to the coronavirus lockdown: 23% of Arabs who worked before the crisis were let go by employers or put on unpaid leave, compared to 16% of Jewish students. Conversely, 38% of Jewish students stayed within the same job, compared to 20% of Arab students.
Yet fewer Arab students received financial aid from the institutions they were studying at – 3.2% of Arabs compared to 5.3% of Jews – despite the fact that a higher number of Arab students applied for aid.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the financial situation, Arab students are much more likely to live at home with their families during their studies: 69.9% of Arabs and 39.5% of Jews live at home, while four times as many Jewish students live in dorms or rented apartments (10.6% of Arabs, to 38.8% of Jews). And the coronavirus had a marginal positive impact on this trend, as 17.2% of Arab students living in dorms left their accommodation to return to living at home, compared to 15.5% of Jewish students.
But this too poses difficulties for Arab students, as 87.9% of Jewish students told the researchers that the internet infrastructure at their place of residence allows for them to continue their study routine online, while 64.7% of Arabs reported the same.
And the internet connection isn’t the only barrier to online learning for Arab students. Of Jewish students, 83.1% owned a personal computer or laptop which enabled them to log in to Zoom classes. Only 31.3% of Arab students could say the same; the rest connected by mobile phone or using a shared family computer.
This, coupled with language difficulties, resulted in 48% of Arab students saying they did not understand the content of classes conducted via Zoom, compared to 30% of Jewish students. Consequently, less than a quarter (23%) of Arabs said that Zoom was an adequate replacement for in-person learning, compared to 38.3% of Jewish students who said the same.
But both groups are struggling with online learning as nonattendance has shot up in both groups, from fewer than 5% who reported not attending any classes at all before the transition to online learning, to around 50% of students who reported never attending a Zoom class.
“Arab students face many barriers to integration and success in Israeli academia and in the labor force after graduation,” Dr. Marian Tahacho, a researcher with the Aharon Institute for Economic Policy, said.
“The economic consequences of the crisis did not skip over students, and the transition to remote learning among Arabs, who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and suffer from significant gaps in terms of infrastructure and digital literacy, has been more challenging.
“The major concern is that we will see a massive dropout of Arab students in the coming year, in an era in which higher education is the most significant tool for social and economic mobility,” she added.
“Arab society was hit hardest by the crisis because it is characterized by high rates of low-skilled and unskilled workers, and these are the individuals suffering from the highest unemployment rates in the wake of corona.”
The researchers have made a number of recommendations on what can be done to overcome the difficulties faced by students as a result of the pandemic. The survey found that, when asked what sort of assistance they would like, two thirds of Arab students (66.1%) opted for financial assistance, as did 58.2% of Jewish students.
The same number of Jewish students (58.2%) wanted to see their courses cut to reduce the burden, while only 41.2% of Arab students felt the same way, making it the second favorite option among the Arab cohort. Private or group tutoring was the third most favored among both groups.
Consequently, the researchers have first and foremost advised increasing the numbers of scholarships and other financial assistance available. They have suggested that the number of scholarships available increase from the current level of 800 to 1,000 by including additional fields of study, such as medicine and related fields.
The lending of computers to students by universities and colleges would also be helpful, particularly if families with a larger number of children, and from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, where the need is greater, were prioritized. And setting up designated study areas to enable online learning in a capsule format would again facilitate distance learning.
Finally, the researchers noted that equal-opportunity advisers for Arab students were put on unpaid leave at precisely the time when they were most needed. They suggested that the advisers focus on the most critical tasks, helping students to connect with tutors and remain engaged, and that the students be made aware of the service.
“Even in routine times, Arab students enter academia at a disadvantage compared to their Jewish counterparts,” Dr. Nasreen Hadad Haj Yahya of the Israel Democracy Institute said.
“This new survey reveals that the coronavirus crisis has deepened gaps in other areas as well, such as in the economic situation and digital infrastructure.
“The State must understand that in order to promote the economic integration of Arab citizens of Israel, it must help them get through the current crisis and cut back on the number of dropouts that the pandemic threatens to increase. Otherwise, the important steps taken in recent years to integrate the Arab society into higher education are likely to go down the drain.”