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Turn a Blind Eye and then Cry: On Discrimination and Its Consequences

Sana Ibn Bari

Following this past International Human Rights Day, which took place on Tuesday December 10, and especially this year, I believe that extra attention must be devoted to the right to education, and issues concerning teachers and educators.

The results of the recent round of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests made a lot of noise, but it was unclear whether the interest and concerns voiced in the media stemmed from the significant educational gaps between Arab and Jewish students, or from how the outcomes will impact Israel’s standing in relation to other OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries. Either way, these tests indicate our education system’s resounding and ongoing failure in recent years.

Reports and official statistics published each year lead to the same conclusion: the education system discriminates between Arab and Jewish students. Exactly one year ago, the Knesset held a discussion on the issue of education in Bedouin-Arab communities in the Negev, and the data presented there indicates the same trend: the average number of children in a classroom in Bedouin communities is 31.1 – greater than the average class size in the rest of the state, which is 29.3. There is an enormous shortage of classrooms, and in fact, only half of the classrooms for which there is an approved budget have been built. This shortage of classrooms prevents 5,000 children aged three to five from accessing adequate educational frameworks.

Due to budgetary disputes between the Al-Kasom Regional Council (that includes Bedouin localities spanning from the north to Be’er Sheva) and the Ministry of Education, the Council’s education system has been shut down a number of times. The start of the school year was delayed this year, and approximately 18,000 students were left without an educational framework. In September of 2019, nine kindergartens were shut down because they did not meet safety and security standards, and thus 200 children stayed home.

In October, school buses that bring children from the unrecognized villages to their classrooms were discontinued after the bus companies did not receive payment for the transportation they provided. In November, the Al-Kasom Regional Council’s entire education system stopped functioning, leaving 34,000 students at home, as a result of the authorities’ failure to find a financial resolution to fund the schools’ activities.

These facts present a stark contrast to an entirely different reality: one wherein when Jewish settlements threatened to disrupt the education system this year as they did not receive budgets a few years ago, the Ministry of Education rushed to transfer 70 million shekels to provide transportation for their students. This sufficiently clarifies that when it comes to Jewish students, the authorities do not delay in rushing to find solutions.

The Arab-Bedouin students in the south do not benefit from such privileges. They are a minority group within an indigenous minority group, half of whom were born and live in unrecognized villages. In order to go to school and receive an education – what is meant to be a protected right – they are often compelled to travel for dozens of kilometers to study in substandard conditions. They do not have a range of options from which to choose their preferable educational framework. The governmental education system is the only option available to Arab students in the Negev. They must accept whatever this system provides them with, which is quite minimal.

As legal experts, we recognize the grave threat posed by the government’s ongoing disregard of these facts. This disregard, in contrast to the shocked reactions to the results of the PISA, appears not only ridiculous, but also idiotic. The authorities are creating these problems firsthand: they further discriminatory policies that exacerbate these gaps, and are then stunned by the outcomes.

Needless to note, each time the authorities choose both to ignore these challenges and opt for discriminatory budgetary allocation, the educational gaps will continue to grow, and Arab society will be left behind.

We have demanded, and continue to demand that the Ministry of Education and its directors act equitably with regard to the Arab educational system, both through budget allocation and issues that are foundational to Arab students’ justified demands, such as: curricula and pedagogy; teacher training; addressing societal, technological, and scientific challenges; and ensuring the relevancy of their studies. Contending with these challenges will contribute to strengthening students’ educational frameworks, in hopes that these frameworks will meet the needs of Arab students. Only then will they achieve better results in international assessments.

Sana Ibn Bari is an ACRI attorney working on the rights of the Bedouin in the Negev

Published on Haaretz on 25.12.2019 (Hebrew)

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