In Israel, elementary school attendance is generally high -- similar to that of First World countries.
While the overall attendance rate is high, there are variations among the different population groups. The school attendance of Christian Arabs it is slightly higher than that of Jews; the rate for Muslims, on the other hand, is lower, as the table below shows. Arab schools evince a high drop-out rate towards the end of elementary school. A 1985 government report found that at least 20% of the pupils enrolled in first grade had dropped out by the end of elementary school. (1)
Regular Schools and Schools for "Disadvantaged" Children
The differences between these two types of schools go back to the 1950s and 1960s, when it was discovered that children of immigrants from Arab lands performed poorly in the national "seker" examinations, the purpose of which was to determine which pupils should receive high school scholarships. (At the time, education was free up to age 13 only.) In 1957, only 46% of the pupils whose parents had come from Asia and Africa passed the exam, the majority with the lowest passing marks. In contrast, 81% of children whose parents had come from Europe or America passed, the majority of them with a mark of 80 or above. (2) Among the factors that contributed to the low success rate of Mizrahi schoolchildren were a shortage of teachers in their neighborhoods; the teachers' lack of qualifications; the dearth of teaching facilities; a curriculum whose content was foreign to the children; the rejection, on the part of the educational system, of the cultural background of the immigrants, including the Arabic language and A rab culture; and the alienation between the parents and the school system. (3)
When educators realized that very few Mizrahi youngsters were attending high school, the Ministry of Education initiated a program designed to improve their performance. This program, which came to be known as "the policy of special nurturing," resulted in the creation of a separate category of schoolchildren "in need of special nurturing" -- defined as students of Asian or African origin, whose families were large and whose fathers had low educational achievements. (4) It also resulted in the establishment of a separate category of schools -- "schools for pupils in need of special nurturing." This nurturing included special teaching materials, preparatory courses for teachers, a separate curriculum, and enrichment classes. The Ministry of Education allocated special budgets and established special supervisory bodies. The basic assumption of the undertaking, which was buttressed by several theoretical justifications, was that these pupils lacked the intellectual baggage to tackle the official curriculum and t hus required special programs designed for the disadvantaged. (5)
Since then, the euphemism "in need of special nurturing" has become part and parcel of the Israeli educational system. "Schools for pupils in need of special nurturing" can be found in every Mizrahi neighborhood and development town, and they differ from regular schools. They are staffed by teachers with relatively low qualifications (6), who tend to doubt the capabilities of their charges (7), and who teach a partial, less demanding version of the official study program. To this day, more than half of Mizrahi pupils enrolled in elementary and junior high schools are defined as disadvantaged. (8) Moreover, the stigma and accompanying low expectations adhere to most Mizrahi schoolchildren, including those who come from small families and whose parents are affluent and educated.
In 1980, the most extensive study of elementary school performance conducted in Israel found that "in grades 4-6, there was a two years' difference between the average performance of the [Mizrahi and Ashkenazi] origin groups." (10)
The division between regular schools and schools for disadvantaged children holds in both the public secular schools and the public religious schools. In each case, schools "for pupils in need of special nurturing are inferior.
Jewish Schools and Arab Schools
Arab schoolchildren study in separate schools. The division, which became official in the British Mandate period, was maintained after the establishment of the state and reinforced by the geographical separation between Arab and Jewish towns and villages. It was also facilitated by the Military Government imposed on Arab population concentrations from 1948 to 1966, which limited the freedom of movement of residents of Arab communities.
Despite distinctions among Muslims (who constitute more than 80% of the total number of Arab schoolchildren), Christians and Druze, Arab schools are quite similar to one another. (11) When it comes to educational achievements, aside from a few exceptions, they resemble Jewish schools located in urban Mizrahi neighborhoods and development towns. Research findings show that there is a two-year discrepancy between Arab and Jewish pupils with regard to scholastic achievements. A research team investigating achievements in arithmetic found that "success rates...among Muslims...are similar in many areas to those of children of first-generation immigrants from Asia and Africa..." (13) This disparity is similar to that found between Jewish schools in affluent neighborhoods and schools in Mizrahi neighborhoods and development towns.
In contrast to "schools for pupils in need of special nurturing," which became the object of special attention during the 1960s -- Arab schools have never been the object of special programs or budgetary allocations. A 1985 governmental report reveals the following facts about Arab education: 1/4 of the teachers are uncertified; there is a serious lack of school buildings and classrooms; the average number of pupils per class is 31.2, compared with 263 for the Jewish sector; there is a shortage of textbooks; and there is a considerable lag in the introduction of innovative programs. (14)
The similarity between Arab and Mizrahi schools is connected with the socio-economic status of members of the two groups. This similarity is not easy for Israelis to perceive, as comparisons are usually made separately -- between Arabs and Jews, on the one hand, and between Mizrabim and Ashkenazim, on the other. In the public mind, the three groups are ordered as follows: Ashkenazim, Mizrahim and Arabs. In actuality, the position of Mizrahim is closer to that of Arabs than to that of Ashkenazim. Thus, for example, in 1988, the average monthly income for an urban Arab household headed by a wage earner was 2,012 IS, somewhat lower than the average income of an urban Jewish household headed by an Israeli-born Mizrahi wage earner -- 2,494 IS, and much lower than that of an urban household headed by an Israeli-born Ashkenazi wage earner -- 3,734 IS. (15) It should be noted that there are more persons in Arab households than in Jewish Mizrahi ones, so that the per capita income in the former is lower. (16)
New Law Prohibits Ethnic Discrimination
In May 1991 the Knesset passed an amendment (#18) to the Compulsory Education Law (1949) prohibiting ethnic discrimination in admission to educational institutions. It was prompted by a suit brought by Mizrahi parents from B'nai Brak whose children had not been admitted to a local Orthodox parochial school, due to a quota of 30% for Mizrahi children. The amendment states: "The local educational authority and educational institutions shall not discriminate on the basis of ethnicity in each of the following: (1) the registration and admission of students; (2) the setting up of separate curricula and tracks in the same school; (3) the creation of separate classes in the same school."
Where Does the Money Really Go?
Repeated announcements by the Ministry of Education that "special budgets" were being allocated to schools for disadvantaged pupils have led people to believe that schools in Mizrahi neighborhoods and development towns receive more money than regular schools. A study conducted by the Ministry itself reveals the real facts of the matter: "The services and programs originally designated for schools for pupils in need of special nurturing, ended up mainly in schools for the affluent, or were equally divided between the three types of schools: schools for pupils in need of special nurturing, integrated schools, and schools for the affluent." (9)
Lack of Early Education
Very few preschool facilities are to be found in Arab communities. While 67% of Jewish 2-year-olds attend day care centers, there are no equivalent facilities for Arab toddlers. Only 20% of Arab 3-year-aids attend preschool, compared with 92% of Jewish children, while 40% of Arab 4-year-olds and 99% of Jewish 4-year-aids are enrolled in preschools. (12)
Auxiliary Educational Services Almost Non-existent
Many of the auxiliary services provided as a matter of course in Jewish schools, like educational and psychological counseling, medical services, school nurses, dental care, social workers and truant officers do not exist in most Arab schools. Due to their scarcity, Arab schools are not even included in a survey of welfare and educational services conducted in 1989. (17) In its 1985 report, the Commission on Arab Education noted that most Arab schools also lacked teachers with proper training in special subjects like Art, Handicrafts, Music, and Physical Education. (18)
Elementary School Attendance Rates for Selected Countries, in Percentages 1988 Israel Jews 98.3 1988 Israel Arabs 95.1 1986 United States 95.0 1987 Canada 97.0 1986 Holland 100.0 1986 England 100.0 1986 Japan 100.0 1987 Mexico 100.0 1987 Egypt 90.0 1987 Iraq 86.0 1987 Syria 99.0 1980 Jordan 93.0 Sources: CBS. 1990 Statistical Abstracts of Israel. Tables 22.12 and 22.13; UNESCO. 1989. Statistical Yearbook. Paris. Table 3.2. Note: The figures for Israel are for the 6-13 age group. Note: Table made from bar graph School Attendance By Religion, Ages 6-13, in...