AS BOTH a mother and a scholar with an MA in education and social geography, I believe in the power of informal education.Until now, unfortunately, Israel’s Arab citizens have had limited access to informal education programs. But that is changing.My team at the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) has completed a master plan for informal education in the Arab Israeli community.We assessed the situation, analyzed needs, and developed recommendations. Now, we are disseminating our proposal to the relevant partners and implementing it together.Advancing informal education in Arab communities in Israel could play a pivotal role in reducing local crime, violence and vandalism, and increase leadership, social cohesion and positive personal and cultural identity.What does informal education actually mean? It can be any kind of informal or experiential learning that happens inside or outside the classroom. This includes sports, art, educational tours or hikes, computers or robotics courses, career counseling, scouting and youth groups. Israeli Arabs have had limited access to informal education compared to Jewish Israelis, while also suffering from higher rates of poverty, school dropouts and delinquency.A 2008 report by Mifneh found that only 5% of Arab youth participate in informal education versus 30% of Jewish youth, and that the Israel Association of Community Centers – the country’s largest youth movement provider – operates in only 37% of Arab municipalities versus in 70% of Jewish municipalities.
The gap stems from both structural and cultural factors.Informal education generally in Israel is largely unregulated and resources for such programs are handled by individual municipalities. Arab municipalities are among the country’s weakest, in part due to years of disproportionately low government funding. There’s a shortage of qualified staff, and a lack of cultural exposure to, and familiarity with, the benefits of informal education among Arab leaders.Additionally, many Arab municipalities lack the appropriate infrastructures, such as community centers, playing fields, game courts, libraries and parks. And with so much of the population living under the poverty line, parents could not afford to enroll their children in these programs anyway.Yet, we know that if we can deliver informal education programs to Arab youth, they could prove life-changing. New role models could open their minds to a new future with higher education and better jobs. Also, as Arab and Jewish youth engage in similar extracurricular activities there will be greater integration, which will build mutual respect at younger ages and improve the opportunities available to Arab citizens of Israel in all aspects of Israeli life. As such, over the last several months, IDI has enhanced the understanding of informal education’s importance for Arab-Israeli children and youth and has served as an impetus for policy changes.We have met with leading players and decision-makers in government on the national and municipal levels and leading NGOs working in the Arab-Israeli community. We have actively participated in relevant forums and conducted our own conference on 10 years of the Israeli government’s socioeconomic activity in Arab society. At each opportunity we shared the plan with our partners in government, doing our best to ensure their buy-in and maximize the chances our recommendations will be implemented.The plan includes a roadmap for integrating informal education into every local authority, as well as recommendations for how to develop culturally appropriate informal education tools and content for Israel’s Arab citizens. This roadmap includes financial collaboration with several ministries and nonprofits, setting up a dedicated unit of the Education Ministry to allocate resources to informal education in Arab society, and a plan for training the staff needed to carry out such a plan. We hope also to set up a system that will enable Arab municipalities to share best practices.A key to the plan’s implementation is turning parents into advocates and agents of change. Accordingly, we recommend that the Education Ministry run a marketing campaign to increase awareness as to the advantages of informal education among Arab parents, and hold workshops for parents.Many of the recommendations in the draft report are already being acted upon. For example, in our research, we discovered that mixed cities – joint Arab-Jewish communities in Israel – did not receive budgets for informal education among the Arab population. This issue is being addressed.Further, we’ve convinced the Education Ministry’s Director of Informal Education for the Arab Community that existing materials used in Jewish programs could not simply be translated from Hebrew to Arabic but had to be redone with Arab cultural needs and interests in mind. This is transformative.How will we know when we’re successful? When we see increased participation in informal education activities, enrollment in leadership development programs, involvement in sports and recreational activities, and volunteerism among the young people, fewer cases of risky behavior among Arab teens, and greater cohesion between Israel’s Arab and Jewish populations.Implementing IDI’s masterplan for informal education in the Arab-Israel community would be a victory for Israel and its Arab youth. Nasreen Hadad Haj-Yahya is a Co-Director of the Arab-Jewish Relations Program at the Israel Democracy Institute