Integration - The Arab teachers who will work in Jewish schools

16th August 2013 at 01:00
Israeli initiative aims to heal the rift between communities

With Middle East peace talks due to resume this week, all eyes are on Israeli and Palestinian politicians to see if any progress can be made towards a historic resolution.

But while tense negotiations take place in the media spotlight, away from the glare of publicity teachers in Israel are also attempting to bridge the divide between the country's two main communities.

More than 100 Arab-Israeli teachers are being recruited to work in Jewish-Israeli schools as part of an innovative project aiming to create a more integrated society. Those behind the initiative want to place at least 500 Arab-Israeli teachers over the next five years - a goal that has won the backing of the country's Ministry of Education.

The work is being supported by Merchavim, the Institute for the Advancement of Shared Citizenship in Israel. Mike Prashker (pictured, left), founder and executive director of the organisation, said there is a hunger among teachers to do more.

"We are currently at the height of the recruitment process," he told TES. "One of the things we are doing to reach out to potential candidates is advertising on the Arab-language Israeli websites. We had 500 CVs sent to us in the first 72 hours. That is an indication of the interest and willingness in the teaching profession."

The Israeli education system largely separates children based on whether they are Jewish or Arab. Only five integrated schools exist.

Mr Prashker said that the first 100 Arab teachers would mostly be placed in schools in pairs when they are recruited later this month.

"We are looking for teachers who are determined in terms of their civic identity to integrate as citizens but are also proud of their Arab, Muslim or Palestinian identity," Mr Prashker said. "These teachers, overwhelmingly young women, will be taking on a very important ambassadorial role.

"Another important factor is the quality of their Hebrew. For this integration initiative to succeed we cannot compromise whatsoever on the quality of teaching that children receive."

The teachers will be supported by mentors and there will be workshops for staff at the schools involved.

Attempts to bring communities closer together through education have won considerable support in Northern Ireland, where "shared education" - which encourages Protestant and Catholic schools to work in close partnership - has been hailed as a success in fostering greater understanding.

The initiative in Israel also addresses two other problems affecting the Israeli education system: the vacancies in Jewish schools for mathematics, science, English and Arabic teachers; and the fact that between 8,000 and 11,000 Arab teachers are currently unemployed.

The issue of unemployment among Arab teachers was debated in the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) recently. Abdallah Hatib, director of the Arab sector education department in the Ministry of Education, told the Knesset: "The high number of unemployed teachers stems from the high unemployment rate of Arab women in general, from the small number of schools and because too many women study this one profession."

Ahmad Tibi, leader of the Arab Ta'al party, said: "We are constantly demanding integration of Arab teachers not only as Arab-language teachers but also for mathematics, biology and English."

A pilot project trialling the placement of Arab teachers in Jewish schools found that resistance between communities faded as people became used to living and working together. Arab teachers also became important role models for young Jewish children.

A 2008 study by Harvard University found that there was support for greater collaboration in Israeli schools, with 68 per cent of Jewish citizens backing the teaching of Arabic in Jewish schools.

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