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Bilingual Education for Removing Barriers

A recent comprehensive report published (in Hebrew) by the Directorate General of Labor at the Israel Ministry of Economy and Industry shows significant progress in the participation of the Arab population in the hi-tech sector. Since 2005 until 2019, the involvement of Arabs in the high-tech industry grew from 1.3% to 4.4%. However, 4.4% is still significantly lower than the participation of Arabs in the general Israeli workforce (about 14%).

It is a conclusion of the report that many entry barriers have nothing to do with the academic level of the candidates. Among these factors are language skills (both Hebrew and English), cultural differences, and geographical location (distance from residence to workplace). In addition, the report states that discrimination may also be a factor.

The low figures for Arab involvement in the high-tech industry reflect the situation in Israeli society as a whole. It is still to be seen if there is a positive trend in overcoming decades of animosity and accepting the inevitable fact that Jews and Arabs share the same space. Unfortunately, there is a lot of skepticism on both sides. Jews and Arabs must recognize that success for all requires acceptance and inclusion.

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A promising initiative, which in my view, has lots of potential, is adopting bilingual education from an early age (Hebrew-Arabic). Today, there are only a few schools that define themselves as bilingual. According to a study published by the Knesset Research and Information Center, in 2019, there were about 2000 students in bilingual schools, 37% Jewish. It is not a large number, but the report showed an increase of about 60% since 2013. A prominent NGO that operates bilingual schools is Hand-in-Hand. Classrooms are taught by two co-teachers, one Jewish and one Arab. Its mission is “to build partnership and equality between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel through a growing network of integrated Jewish-Arab schools and communities throughout the country.”

The Constitution, Law and Justice Committee of the Knesset held an event in June 2022 to discuss bilingual education:  “to create a situation where every Israeli family, Jewish and Arab, who is interested in bilingual education, can choose a state bilingual school as an educational option for their children.”

Linguistic research shows that language shapes the way we see the world. “If different languages influence our minds in different ways, this is not because of what our language allows us to think but rather because of what it habitually obliges us to think about,” states the renowned linguist Guy Deutscher.

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Bilingual (Hebrew-Arabic) education in Israel is not only about learning two languages. Bilingual schools bring together children who may live geographically close to each other but are exposed to very different cultures and narratives, possibly including negative views of each other. As we often hear in the news, the education system in Israel is under constant pressure related to the workforce, quality of teaching, and others. On top of it, the challenge of bilingual schools is maintaining an environment that offers high-quality education while bridging the two cultures and narratives (see here).

Research shows that bilingual education trains the habit of “perspective-taking”, i.e., the process that enables us to recognize and appreciate another person’s point of view (see here). The expected result is more empathy between members of two populations that may tend to approach one another with a certain level of distrust, even at a young age.

We see that even the hi-tech sector, the star of the Israeli economy, is affected negatively by prejudices and misconceptions. There is hope that if Jewish and Arab children get to know each other at an early stage, in a not-too-distant future, barriers will start to fall.

About the Author
Dr. Eitan Yudilevich completed his doctoral studies in computers and systems engineering in the field of medical imaging in the Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He earned his Master's Degree in mathematics at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and his Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in electrical engineering at Haifa's Technion. Dr. Yudilevich assumed the Executive Director position at the BIRD Foundation on January 1, 2006.
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