A lost generation of Beduin youth

Education under the microscope: Almost 80% of Beduin girls don't attend high school.

beduin child 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
beduin child 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
A billboard bearing an enlarged model of an elementary school towered over a stage covered with Beduin rugs in the village of Kasr al-Ser, where government and Beduin officials gathered for the laying of the school's cornerstone last month. A series of speeches lauded the government-backed plan to build the school, which is planned to be the first permanent building in the village - one of nine Beduin villages in the Negev which have recently been recognized by the state and which now form part of the municipality of Abu Basma. Yet, speaking off the record in the scattering of temporary buildings that have housed the village's current elementary school for the past 30 years, teachers in Kasr al-Ser were far from optimistic about the present state and future prospects of education in the Negev's Beduin towns. "Every government office boasts of what it does, but a lot remains to be changed on the ground," said one school official. Since the new school will not be large enough to accommodate the village's large student population, teachers pointed out, the old school will remain operative despite its inadequate infrastructure. According to the official, the electricity grid passes by the school without actually powering it. "There are no land lines here," the official added. "For over five years, the computer lab was not connected to the Internet, and we still have no air conditioners and no school gym." Currently, a staggering total of 1,000 children are enrolled at the village's elementary school. This is nearly twice the average of the 59 Beduin elementary schools in the Negev, at which 35,000 students are enrolled. "As it is," said one teacher from Kasr al-Ser, "the achievement rates of schoolchildren in the Beduin sector are at the bottom of the national scale. This is the sector most in need of scholastic advancement." Yet these are not even the most serious problems plaguing the Beduin education system. Beduin teachers, academics and social advocacy groups agree that the biggest issue is the lack of a long-term, comprehensive educational plan. There is a distinct lack of secondary and higher education in the Beduin sector; currently, there are only 17 Beduin high schools in the Negev, which accommodate 14,000 students. "Building new schools here and there is a form of putting out fires," Prof. Ismael Abu Saad, a specialist in Beduin education at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, told The Jerusalem Post. "But it is not part of any larger educational vision." According to Abu Saad, half of school-age Beduin children in the Negev reside in unrecognized villages. While it has been the Education Ministry's policy to create elementary and junior high schools despite the illegal status of these villages, not a single high school exists in any of them. Independently of the legal future of these villages, education specialists in the Beduin sector argue, the lack of high schools leads to a dropout rate that is catastrophic both in terms of the rising rates of crime and violence in the region and in terms of minimizing social and economic gaps between the Beduin and the rest of the country's population. Although high school age students in the unrecognized villages can travel to Beduin schools in one of the region's recognized Beduin towns, few of them do so. While the Education Ministry would not provide data concerning dropout rates from Beduin high schools, data collected at Ben-Gurion University shows that only 23% of junior high students pursue a high school education. Among female students, the dropout rate exceeds 77%. These statistics, according to specialists on Beduin education, are not due to a reluctance to study among female students. "Today most girls want to pursue a university education," said one Beduin principal. "There are girls with high academic potential whose families often support their academic aspirations, but they also want them to maintain Beduin traditions." Since Beduin tradition does not permit girls to travel out of their villages unaccompanied by a relative or to be in an environment with boys from other tribes, the lack of local high schools means the girls there are forced to give up on pursuing their education after junior high. "Research has shown that the presence of a high school in a Beduin village directly influenced high school attendance," Abu Saad told the Post. "If we want Beduin society to become an integral part of society as a whole, we must educate its young women, who in turn will educate the next generation. If they will be educated, everything will be different. Currently, we are losing an entire generation of girls."