Hadib is particularly proud of what has already been accomplished. Arab girls, in particular, have made great strides in Israel’s education system, in many cases surpassing their male peers in recent years. “It’s a huge cultural change,” he says. In 1990 only 1.2 percent of Arabs with 16 years of education or more were women compared to 10 percent in 2006.
But Hadib’s optimism about the government’s efforts are met with skepticism by some educators within the Arab sector. Reform of Israel’s Arab schools has been slow. Saar’s education ministry has put on hold plans made by Tamir’s education ministry in conjunction with Arab education leaders. Some Arab education analysts feel left out by the current ministry and are anxious for increased involvement. “We see it as a joint mission to bring our decision makers inside the ministry of education so we can keep our uniqueness, help craft our own curricula, our narrative, how our language and history are taught,” says Moadi.
Other reformers believe it is time to establish an independent Arab-led educational structure to oversee curricula. Ayman Egbaria, a lecturer in the education department at Haifa University, is one of them. “There is no such thing as an Arab education system in Israel,” he says. “There are Arab employees within the system, but no Arab education system.” What Arabs are demanding, he says, is “full and meaningful participation.”
Despite voicing frustration with the current system, Arab educators are also looking inward. They are seeking to change the traditional approach that values rote learning over discussion, hires principals based on family ties instead of merit and undervalues teacher training. “We have no power. Politically we are impotent because we are not part of any ruling coalition, and we are not in the consensus,” says Khaled Abu-Asbah, an expert in education in the Arab sector who heads the project for the Advancement of Arab-Israeli Citizens in Israel at Jerusalem’s Van Leer Institute. “But,” he continues, “I think we are now being taken by a sense of empowerment. Parents are more active, the teachers are better. The Arab community is learning how to take responsibility and not just protest.”
Back at the Jaljulia Education and Science High School, I meet Saeed Rabi, 18, the school student council president. He has thick, gelled back dark hair and proudly wears the school’s navy blue hooded sweatshirt. We talk about his plan to battle graffiti by having students paint walls themselves, which he hopes will bolster school spirit. He wishes that conditions here were more like in the Jewish school in nearby Kfar Saba, where students have a choice of activities after school.
Noor Qormatta, 15, an earnest girl whose long black ponytail tumbles down, also wears a school sweatshirt. She wants to be a lawyer one day, “because in our community good lawyers are needed to help deal with the problems of living in Israel.” She defends the school from criticism about behavior problems. “I think our school is great, no place is perfect. Our teachers are great and our principal is too,” she says. “He makes sure things are under control.”
Principal Arar seems to have endless energy. He has seen much improvement in the school in recent years, but the drop-out rate is still too high, and Arar estimates that half of the students who remain have the equivalent of less than a C average.
His wife wonders why he remains at his job with all of its headaches. He stays because he is committed to making the system better, he tells me. “I feel responsible to this school,” he says. “I have a vision that I still want to fulfill. I want to help create people who are capable and who can succeed in Israeli society.”