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Druze lead Israel in high school matriculation; Haredi, Bedouin schools lag behind

Data released a day after Netanyahu agrees to full funding for ultra-Orthodox schools that don’t teach core curriculum, if he regains premiership

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Young Bedouin students study together at the library of their high school in the Bedouin city of Rahat in southern Israel, February 16, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)
Illustrative: Young Bedouin students study together at the library of their high school in the Bedouin city of Rahat in southern Israel, February 16, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

Schools in Druze communities in Israel had the highest rate of graduating students eligible for a high school diploma, known in Israel as teudat bagrut, according to data released Tuesday by the Education Ministry.

High school students in Israel are required to successfully pass a number of matriculation exams (with a score of 56% or higher) before receiving their diploma, which is a major factor in applications to elite military units and academic institutions.

The data released Tuesday compared students’ matriculation eligibility in schools from different cities and local or regional authorities in the 2020-2021 school year. Other metrics taken into account included the number of students choosing math and English enrichment, whether schools offered tech-related extracurricular programs, and dropout rates.

Druze schools seemed to dominate the list, with four Druze towns appearing among the top six nationwide.

The Druze towns of Buq’ata in the Golan Heights and Pekiin in the Upper Galilee came in first with 100% of their students earning high school diplomas.

Next on the list was the West Bank settlement of Elkana, designated as a local council, at 99.3%, followed by the Druze town of Beit Jann, located on Mount Meron in northern Israel, and the Arab Muslim town of Kaukab Abu al-Hija in the Lower Galilee, both at 99%.

Illustrative: A young Bedouin student walks by her high school building wall which says “I have a dream and I will fulfill it because my school believes in me,” at a high school in the Bedouin city of Rahat in southern Israel, February 16, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

Sixth on the list was Hurfeish, a Druze town in the northern district (98.4%), followed by the mostly Jewish town of Kiryat Ekron (98.3%) and the city of Givatayim in the Gush Dan metropolitan area (98.1%). The city of Givat Shmuel came in ninth (97.4%) and the Shafir Regional Council in southern Israel was tenth on the list at 97%.

Specific schools that scored high on a national level were the Darca Druze High School for Science and Leadership in Yarka, which had the largest percentage of students who chose to expand their math and English studies. The school also came in second for overall highest score average in matriculation exams, after the Pelech Religious Experimental High School for Girls in Jerusalem.

The Druze population in Israel includes over 140,000 people, the majority of whom identify as ethnically Arab and reside in northern areas of the country. The Druze community in Israel is known for its loyalty to the state. Most eligible Druze serve in the Israeli military.

Illustrative: Druze community officials participate in a rally against Israel’s nation-state law, in Tel Aviv, Saturday, August 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

In contrast, Haredi cities and local authorities seemed to score lowest on the list.

Only 4.4% of high school students in the Haredi city-settlement of Modi’in Illit completed their studies with a diploma. In the Haredi city of Bnei Brak, home to over 200,000 people, the rate was 9.5%.

Other notable Haredi cities appearing low on the list include El’ad in central Israel (42.6%) and the increasingly religious city of Beit Shemesh near Jerusalem (46.8%).

The common denominator among most of these educational institutions is that they don’t usually teach the so-called core curriculum, which includes subjects like math, English and science, but focus instead on religious studies.

This trend is also true in many schools in Bedouin communities in southern Israel. Several Bedouin schools also scored low for dropout rates, with the Bedouin town of Kuseife and the Neve Midbar Bedouin Regional Council notching 4.1 and 3.9% dropout rates respectively — three times higher than the national average.

A report released by State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman last year pointed to a shocking lack of infrastructure and services that affect the quality of education in Bedouin communities. “The Bedouin population in the Negev is the poorest in Israel and suffers from a lack of infrastructure and quality education,” the report charged.

MK Sharren Haskel, who heads the Knesset’s Education Committee, visits a school in the Bedouin town Kuseife, February 17, 2022. (Flash90)

The data was released one day after opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to fund ultra-Orthodox schools regardless of whether they meet state standards and teach a core curriculum, should he return to power after the November elections.

The campaign promise was seen as Netanyahu’s attempt to bridge a division between two Haredi political factions that may be key to his political future. His pledge managed to cement an agreement between the Degel HaTorah and Agudat Yisrael parties to reconstitute the United Torah Judaism political alliance, putting an end to a rift that could have seen one of the factions fail to make it into the Knesset.

In an interview with Army Radio on Tuesday, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton slammed Netanyahu for “promoting a life of poverty for Haredi children in the State of Israel” and stressed her commitment to “providing the tools and the skills that every child in Israel will require in their adult lives, and that includes Haredi kids.”

Under existing law, schools in Israel must offer core curriculum subjects in order to receive full state funding, an incentive designed to ensure that children in Haredi school systems graduate with necessary skills for life, such as the ability to read, write, and do arithmetic.

Illustrative: Young students learn in a classroom at the opening of the new school year in a school for ultra-Orthodox Jewish boys, in Beit Shemesh, on August 28, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Education Ministry also announced a change in the country’s matriculation exams, spearheaded by Shasha-Biton, which came into effect this school year.

According to the new plan, first reported in February, the number of required matriculation exams was dramatically reduced from 12-14 to 4-5. Students will be required to pass exams in four core subjects — math, English, language and an elective course. Students who are interested will be able to choose a fifth elective course to be tested on.

Other classes like literature, history, Bible and civic studies, which were previously part of the matriculation exams designed and written by the Education Ministry, will be tested and graded internally by each school.

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