Unwise and Unnecessary

I believe wholeheartedly in the good and professional intentions of those at the Ministry of Education and so understand, and even sympathize with, their sense of indignation and offense at the latest public response to their proposal to reduce the budget allocation per Arab Israeli teacher-in-training. This move is intended to reduce the number of Arab Israeli teachers in the North where there is currently a surplus. Nonetheless, I think that this move is unwise (to say the least) and unnecessary.

Why isn’t it the smart thing to do? It isn’t smart because any excuse, no matter how good and logical it might be, will not manage to erase the sense of discrimination that the decision arouses. As the saying goes: if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck then it probably is a duck. Just to illustrate this point, and only by way of example, would anyone even consider cutting back on the budget for Mizrahi students if it was found that there was a surplus of teachers of Mizrahi background? And, if there were a lot of teachers living in Judea and Samaria who did not manage to find employment in that area, would the Ministry of Education advocate reducing the budget at teacher training institutions for students living in Judea and Samaria?

As such, the decision to reduce the budget for Arab Israeli students learning side by side with Jewish students, regardless of the profession they pursue or labor market conditions, is morally wrong. More than this, it is also unwise because, if the budget cut is intended for all Arab Israeli students learning in teacher training institutions, its chances of being upheld in the Supreme Court are low and, if it applies to just the Arab Israeli institutions, then it impacts only a small portion of Arab Israeli students since the majority study in Jewish institutions. More importantly, if there is a problem, and apparently there is,[1] of a surplus of Arab Israeli teachers in the North, there are better ways to deal with it. I will examine below some of the possible solutions to the issue of too many Arab Israeli teachers that, from my perspective, seem to be less discriminatory.

  1. The first and most important solution would be to direct more teaching resources to the Arab Israeli sector. According to the Ministry of Education data for 2014, the budget for a “weak” Jewish pupil in primary school was about 25% higher than that for a weak Arab Israeli pupil.[2] At the lower secondary school level, the gap is about 50% and at the upper secondary school level, it is about 68%. Increasing the hours allocated will lead to a narrowing of gaps and could offer a solution to the whole problem. Just by way of example, let’s take primary school education where the gap is 0.4 hours per pupil. In primary education in the Arab Israeli sector, there were a quarter of a million pupils in 2014. Narrowing this gap would require an addition of about 100,000 teaching hours which is about 3,000 full-time positions and close to 4,000 part-time positions (75% time). If post-primary education is added into the equation, it is clear that at least 5,000 positions would have to be added.
  2. A second solution within the Arab Israeli sector would be to put a ban on all employment positions that exceed full time. There is no doubt that among the 40,000 teachers and preschool teachers in the Arab Israeli sector, there are teachers working more than a full-time position.
  3. A situation where only a small minority of teachers in the Jewish sector is Arab Israeli is unacceptable. The healthy and right thing is for student teachers to be trained to teach specific subjects and not trained for teaching in a specific sector or with a specific type of supervision framework. This should be the case for Arab Israeli and Jewish students as well as for Haredi, religious or secular students. The current reality creates a situation where an Arab Israeli student-teacher is only suited to teach in the Arab Israeli sector, and the secular student-teacher is only suited to teach in a state school. The Ministry of Education is trying to deal with this problem but, up until now, the results are meager and not too impressive. Only about 200 Arab Israeli teachers teach subjects other than Arabic in Jewish state schools. In the face of opposition from parents, teachers and school principals, as well as the reluctance of many Arab Israeli teachers to integrate into the Jewish education system, the Ministry of Education must do much more to increase the share of Arab Israeli teachers in the Jewish system. Special efforts must be made to integrate Arab Israeli teachers into the state-religious and even the Haredi sectors. Any opposition by the state-religious or Haredi education institutions should be rejected outright for two reasons. 1) The presence of an Arab Israeli teacher cannot be deemed unacceptable behavior according to Jewish law (as is the case for secular Jewish teachers). The concept of the “Shabbos goy”[3] is probably the best example of this. 2) Since bigotry is a prevailing issue in the state-religious and Haredi education systems, it is important to integrate Arab Israeli teachers and to expose pupils to individuals from this sector, as well as to highlight the ugly face of bigotry.
  4. The recommendations of the “Biton Committee” called for expanding the teaching of Mizrahi culture. The Committee’s recommendations can and should also be applied to the Arab Israeli sector whose share of the Israeli education system has reached about 25%. If adopted, this would significantly strengthen Arabic language programs as well as the teaching of Arab culture and history in the Jewish sector. This would, without a doubt, increase the need for Arab Israeli teaching staff.
  5. It should be strictly forbidden to employ teachers on individual contracts or with preferential conditions if there are teachers from another sector or supervision framework who are ready – and qualified – to work under the standard payment conditions and under the conditions of employment and behavior required by their place of employment. This should apply to all schools in all sectors.
  6. Another considerable problem is differential budgeting among higher education institutions according to labor market demands. There is some justification for this in institutions where the primary focus is to train individuals to enter the labor force. Thus, the steps taken by the Ministry of Education to give larger or smaller budgets to certain types of training programs is valid, so long as it doesn’t increase the inequalities and feelings of discrimination that already exist.

Thus far I have examined the “demand side” of the equation. But the Ministry of Education can and should examine the “supply side” as well. It is possible to use the current oversupply of applicants to raise the level of admissions requirements. If there is little faith in bagrut and psychometric scores, it is possible to consider an alternative admissions test. This process would limit the number of those studying (Arab Israelis and Jews alike) and would help to raise the quality of those entering the teaching profession. This type of test is reasonable and worthwhile when accompanied by a national qualification exam for acceptance to teaching programs (although this is the subject of a separate discussion).

All of these steps are possible and warranted. Some require an increase in budgets, and others require a firm stance against those with opposing positions and ideologies who wield political power. These are steps, though, that not only deal with the specific issue of a surplus of Arab Israeli teachers in the North, but also with the deeper and more serious issue of educational and social gaps and discrimination within Israel’s education system.



[1] I have heard and read that there is a surplus of Arab Israeli teachers for quite a few years now. The demographic reality of a lower fertility rate in the Arab Israeli sector along with enrollment rates that are at nearly one hundred percent, and lower drop-out rates from teaching positions in this sector as the result of the difficulty of finding alternate sources of employment, will only make matters worse if there really is such a problem. Still, alongside all the indicators that there is a surplus of Arab Israeli teachers, some of the data do not back up this claim. The average employment position (in terms of hours worked) for Arab Israeli teachers is higher than for Jewish teachers, and it has not changed over the years. In a situation of a surplus of teachers, we would have expected to see a drop in the average number of work hours for Arab Israeli teachers relative to teachers in the Jewish sector.

[2] This is an expression of budgetary discrimination as well as the fact that there is more crowding in classes in the Arab Israeli sector. It is important to stress that the Ministry of Education has taken quite a few steps in the past few years (some of which have not succeeded) to both reduce the budgetary gaps and to lower the average number of pupils per class in the Arab Israeli sector.

[3] A “Shabbos goy” is a term for a non-Jew who performs certain types of work on the Sabbath on behalf of a Jew who is him/herself prohibited from the work according to Jewish religious law.

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