While there is a valid justification for schools serving the Palestinian, Arab citizens of Israel to teach in Arabic and enable students’ evolving cultural identity, Hebrew is essential for all Israelis. In the last decade, it has become increasingly clear that the level of Hebrew among Arab graduates of Israeli public schools is inadequate for their success. Lower Hebrew proficiency is a barrier to success in higher education and an impediment to professional, social, and economic inclusion in Israeli society. Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics published data in 2013 showing that 90% of the Jewish public is proficient in Hebrew compared to only 60% of Palestinian citizens, and the trend has been progressively declining.
Many Arab students graduate from high school unable to conduct a conversation in Hebrew. This program aims to boost students’ speaking skills and confidence prior to high school, where they choose the level they will study for matriculation exams [Bagrut], which will have a lasting impact on their futures.
Refined language skills are intertwined with a cultural awareness of the spoken language. Our program integrates Jewish teachers in Arab classrooms, further facilitating cultural awareness and breaking down stereotypes on both sides.
This program for Hebrew language instruction by Jewish teachers in middle schools serving communities where Palestinian citizens reside has operated as a three-year series for 7th, 8th, and 9th graders. The lessons are based on an innovative, interactive platform and focus on the acquisition of spoken Hebrew skills relevant to the students’ lives.
Every school participating in the program represents a community impacted by the teacher's presence, an important step toward mutual inclusion in otherwise segregated environments. While meeting an essential curricular need, the program also provides meeting grounds for the Arab students and the Jewish teachers, as well as for the Jewish teachers and their Arab colleagues, particularly those mentoring and supervising them in the program.
Vision and goals
Yihyeh B'seder envisions a future for Palestinian citizens of Israel, now students in the public school system, where they can be linguistically and culturally integrated into higher education and society while still holding onto and celebrating their own distinct culture and language. This will provide more opportunities for advancement in society and the job world, which will uplift their communities and enable the shared society to which Givat Haviva is committed.
Thus, the program seeks to achieve the following goals:
To produce and adapt more innovative material for teachers, to improve Arab students’ knowledge of Hebrew language and culture;
To encourage the continuing education of Hebrew language teachers to hone their skills in conveying language and culture to Arab students;
To create a growing number of Arab youth proficient in spoken Hebrew and prepared for socio-cultural integration;
To enhance familiarity and understanding between Jewish and Arab educators.
Teacher recruitment, training, and support
Teachers recruited for this program are native speakers of Hebrew and certified by the Ministry of Education. Each of these teachers has shown a willingness to enter a school with a different and potentially antagonistic ethnic population during times of tension and conflict. This job requires sensitivity and the capability to teach and inspire tolerant intercultural dialogue. Preliminary training sessions are held for participating teachers and are supplemented by additional workshops in which veteran teachers in this field share their past experiences.
Teacher-to-Teacher Mentoring Program:
Each Jewish teacher is paired with an Arab teacher from their assigned school to serve as a mentor and help them navigate the unfamiliar system and school. This mentoring process familiarizes Jewish teachers with school procedures and events, culture-related issues that might arise with students, and even with the informal shared social world of the teachers’ lounge. The teachers take part in a process of shared learning with their cohorts, focusing on challenges they encounter and disseminating best practices. An Arab teacher is also assigned to each Jewish teacher for supervision and consultation in addressing and understanding nuances and sensitivities that may impact the classroom environment.
The Ministry of Education provides a consultant to support the program teachers and help them respond optimally to specific challenges as they arise. Additionally, Givat Haviva provides a field coordinator responsible for ongoing personal support and contact with all of the teachers. The participating teachers also engage in peer-to-peer support through digital communication, and Givat Haviva holds monthly meetings with teachers’ representatives to present shared concerns. The program staff maintains contact with the schools’ administrators and assists with the integration of the participating teachers with the faculties in the schools.
Curriculum and pedagogical development for the program
Original, up-to-date, online pedagogical materials were developed specifically for this program to facilitate the acquisition of up-to-date language applicable to daily conversation. The program operates in some areas where the infrastructure necessary for internet access is lacking. To account for this, Givat Haviva has supported the development of a complete offline curriculum and pedagogical approach based on materials the teachers are implementing and producing by their own initiatives, which either serve as backup or replace online content as needed.
In 2022, the Ministry of Education made some structural changes in its offering of a broad range of programs aiming to advance shared society. In that process, it has shown its support for Yihyeh B'seder by separating it from other programs, and at the same time, including it in the basket of options of the ministry's Gefen projects. The practical implications can be explained according to the following operational principles:
In the past, the Ministry provided one teacher per class. With the program's emphasis on spoken language, it became clear that the program would be far more effective if two teachers worked with each class divided into two groups for the same number of hours.
With the same funds available from the Ministry, unfortunately, this change means fewer classrooms/schools are able to participate. Yet, with all other programs in the system moved into the Gefen system, it is an honor, indicative of the value attributed to the program, that the ministry continues to provide funding for teacher salaries for the program. Nevertheless, this does ostensibly reduce the number of teachers who can be employed for this program.
Gefen is, in effect, a pool of funds available to all schools for a range of programs promoting shared society. It enables school principals to choose the program they want for their schools and provides some funds for the program chosen. In order to still allow more schools to adopt the Yihyeh B'seder program, it is ALSO an option that may be chosen by a school from the Gefen menu.
As a result, elementary schools have expressed interest in the program for 5th and 6th-grade classes. 69 elementary school classes in 12 Arab communities registered for the program, and we are adapting the materials and the methods to their level. In the middle schools, there are 600 groups participating in the program with the ministry covering the cost of the teachers’ hours. This involves 47 schools and 45 teachers.
Looking toward the future
Our long-term goal is to implement the program for all students in 7th, 8th, and 9th-grade classes in Arab middle schools across Israel, representing a total of 3,459 classes (in all three age groups) and 373 educational institutions. Given the operational changes introduced by the Ministry of Education, we are pleased to offer the program to 5th and 6th-grade classes. Yet, we attribute particular importance to the influence of the program on youth as they enter high school and move closer to young adulthood and the need for Hebrew as a tool for inclusion. The program generates a ripple effect beginning with the effect on families and colleagues of participating students and teachers, respectively. Ultimately, it will benefit not only the Palestinian citizens of Israel but all Israeli citizens who will benefit from shared society enriching their lives.
Uplifting Arab youth and Educators through Hebrew Language learning