Arab-Israeli group wants to establish Arab pedagogic council

Umbrella organization seeks to give Arab citizens more control over their schooling.

arab students 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
arab students 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
An Arab-Israeli umbrella organization that seeks educational equality is preparing to appoint an autonomous administrative body for Arab education in an effort to give Arab citizens of the country more control over their schooling. The Follow-Up Committee for Arab Education is launching a public relations campaign in the Hebrew press to advocate for the creation of a separate "Arab pedagogic council" which activists say is needed for Arab-Israelis to exercise genuine participation and decision-making power in education. The Arab pedagogic council, which activists say would fall under the Education Ministry, would be able to revise and tailor the current curricula taught in Arab schools to the cultural and linguistic needs of the community, said Ayman Agbaria, a senior consultant for the Follow-Up Committee and a lecturer at Haifa University. "There is already a pedagogic council for [haredi] religious education and there is no reason not to have one for Arab education, as long as it is within the Education Ministry," Agbaria told The Jerusalem Post. "It is within the responsibility and the authority of the Education Ministry to create such a pedagogic council." While Arab schools have their own curriculum, it is designed and supervised by the Education Ministry, "where almost no Arab educators or administrators have decision-making powers," says Yousef Jabareen, the director of the Nazareth-based Dirasat: The Arab Center for Law and Policy, which is supporting and helping to frame the committee's initiative from a legal standpoint. In addition to inequality in funding, Arabs face educational content that lacks sensitivity to the distinct identity, culture, history and heritage of Arab students, he said. "They study more of the Hebrew culture, [Jewish] heritage and religion than their own," Jabareen said. "It's ironic and it doesn't make sense." The idea of establishing a separate Arab pedagogic council - "a long-standing demand" of the Arab-Israeli community - was also recommended by the Dovrat commission on education four years ago, Jabareen said. The committee plans to appoint the Arab pedagogic council in October, "and then demand recognition from the ministry ," Agbaria said. But ministry officials are not enthusiastic about the idea. Education Minister Yuli Tamir told Israel Radio on Sunday that "the establishment of a separate pedagogical administration [for Arabs] is not the right thing and will not lead to integration or equality; on the contrary it will increase alienation and suspicion and it is liable to hurt rather than help." The ministry will be adding Arab academic professionals to their pedagogic committees starting next year, she said. In addition, in conjunction with the committee of (Arab) local council heads, the ministry is also working to match programs of study to the special needs of the Arab sector. She said that one of the reasons for the rift between secular and religious Jews in recent years is the establishment of a separate religious educational administration for haredi Jews. "I think that we don't need to create more and more separations within the system, but [rather] create more points of integration," she said during the radio interview. Others in the education field, however, are open to exploring the possibility, noting that much needs to be done to improve Arab education in the country. "I think it is in principle a very important idea that should be examined very carefully, with as little bias as possible," said Gavriel Salomon, professor of education at Haifa University and a recipient of the Israel Prize in Education. Prof. Elie Rekhes, director of The Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation at Tel Aviv University, said he might be in favor of such a council depending on the circumstances. "If autonomous status means a greater involvement in formulating the syllabi within the context of the Ministry of Education? Yes, by all means," said Rekhes. "If it means a greater input of Arabs into pedagogical issues? Yes by all means. But if it means a separatist, institutionalized reform that would put the Arabs in direct control of Arab education in Israel, detached from the Education Ministry, I suspect this would not enhance Jewish-Arab relations."