Despite lingering budget inequality, significant gaps in the level of education between the Jewish and Arab education systems have “almost completely closed,” according to an independent Israeli study released on Wednesday.
Among the improvements listed in the report are a substantial increase in Arab Israelis enrolling in all levels of schooling and taking high school matriculation exams, as well as improved test scores.
According to the report, released by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies, an independent Israeli research institute, the 2016 school year saw a substantial increase in math scores and a moderate increase in English scores on the fifth grade Meitzav exams for Arab Israelis. On the eighth grade test the gap in scores narrowed in science and technology, but the gap in math scores increased, and the gap in English remained unchanged, the report said.
One area of clear improvement in the Arab Israeli community was the percentage taking the high school matriculation exams.
Today, 81 percent of Arab-Israeli pupils take the exam, in contrast to 84% of Jewish students, and in the Druze sector the number rises to 90%.
Only 50% of Arab students, 62% of Jewish students and 66% of Druze students who qualify for the exam will pass and receive a matriculation certificate, which is necessary to apply for higher education in Israel.
The long-term results are clear. Recent years have seen more Arab Israelis going to universities, both in and outside of Israel, the report said.
More students, more teachers
Since 1990, enrollment has risen from 90% to 97% in the Jewish community and from 63% to 93% in the Arab Israeli community. Among girls in the Arab Israeli community, enrollment has risen from 59% to 94%.
Despite that progress, in the Arab Israeli community in 2015, only 36% of Arab Israelis aged 25-34 had more than 13 years of schooling, compared with 72% among Jews of the same ages.
But they may also be changing. At every level of the state education system, the report showed, the Arab Israeli community has more teachers with university degrees than the Jewish community does.
The author of the report, Nachum Blass, told The Times of Israel that this is because there are far more Arab Israelis going into teaching training colleges than Jewish citizens.
The share of teachers with a master’s degree in the Arab Israeli community has grown at an even faster rate and is approaching that of Jewish teachers. In post-primary education, however, there are still notable gaps, with about 29% in the Arab Israeli sector compared with 43% in the Jewish sector.
According to the report, the government spends around NIS 20,000 ($5,600) per primary school pupil in the Jewish sector, compared to about NIS 16,000 ($4,400) in the Arab Israeli sector. The report does add, however, that in recent years the budget for Arab pupils has increased at a faster rate than for Jewish pupils.
Blass said the improvements were likely due to a mix of both government policy and changes in Arab Israeli society.
The report indicated that the results of efforts by the Education Ministry to reduce the number of students in classrooms had been successful in the Arab sector, bringing the average down from 31 to 28 per classroom. In 2015, the number of pupils per class in Arab Israeli primary and middle schools was lower than in the Jewish sector, and only in high school was it higher, the report said.
The divider is socioeconomic
While recent reports have highlighted gaps in the education sector between Jews and Arabs, Blass said once he took the socioeconomic background of students in the account, the differences were far less significant.
“When you take the entire Arab sector against the entire Jewish sector, there are big differences. But once you look more closely at the achievements and cancel out the socioeconomic background, the differences are much smaller,” he said.
For example, without taking the socioeconomic background into account, over the last ten years, there was a 26-point difference in the English final exam in fifth grade and a 63-point difference in the eighth grade exam. However, when the students are categorized into three groups — wealthy, middle-class and poor — the gaps shrink.
In the lowest socioeconomic group, there was a gap of 14 points on the English exam in fifth grade and 33 points in eighth grade, and in the middle socioeconomic group, the scores of the Arab Israeli pupils sometimes exceed those of the Jewish pupils.
Though Arabs make up around 20% of Israel’s eight million citizens, they represent 53.3% of poor families, according to the National Insurance Institute’s 2016 annual report.
Summing up his findings, Bass wrote, “The large gap in achievement between Jewish pupils and Arab Israeli pupils can be explained to a great extent by their socioeconomic backgrounds, and, if we want to reduce this gap, we should focus more generally on addressing socioeconomic issues.”