One-third of all students in Israel take the higher education eligibility exam in Arabic; Adalah: Ministry must live up to its name and narrow gaps rather than widen them.
Israel’s Ministry for Social Equality is discriminating against Palestinian Arab high school students, citizens of Israel, by offering a free online psychometric examination preparatory course in Hebrew only.
The online course, offered starting in January 2019 to students preparing for the April 2019 psychometric higher education eligibility exam, is administered by Campus, the national platform for online students’ courses led by the ministry’s “Digital Israel” project.
According to Ministry for Social Equality data, about 70,000 potential higher education students take the psychometric exams every year, most of who undergo preparatory courses at a total cost of NIS 300 million (almost US $80 million) annually.
However, the ministry’s online course is offered only in Hebrew, thereby discriminating against students who take the exam in Arabic. Approximately one-third of all students in Israel take the psychometric examination in Arabic and this figure has been steadily increasing over the past decade.
On 17 December 2018, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel sent a letter to Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel demanding that she take immediate action to offer a psychometric prep course also in Arabic in advance of the April 2019 exam.
There is a significant gap between average test scores in Arabic and in Hebrew. In 2017, the average Hebrew-language score was 580 while the average Arabic-language score was 488.
Adalah stressed in the letter that offering the course only in Hebrew will cause serious harm to Arab students, will perpetuate existing education gaps, and will make it more difficult for Arab students to integrate into academia and, later, into the workforce.
Offering a free preparatory course only in Hebrew constitutes discrimination on the basis of nationality, and violates the state’s duty to act with equality between all citizens when allocating state resources.
Indeed, former Israeli Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak, in the case of The High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens in Israel v. Prime Minister of Israel (HCJ 11163/03), stated: “Public resources, especially resources directed at correcting socio-economic distortion, should be allocated in an egalitarian and just manner, considering the purpose for which they are allocated and the different needs of the members of society in receiving the resources.” Adalah Attorney Nareman Shehadeh-Zoabi prepared and sent the letter to Minister Gamliel.
Attorney Nareman Shehadeh-Zoabi commented further on the case:
“If the Ministry for Social Equality is interested in fulfilling the role defined by its name, it must make an active effort to narrow the gaps between students rather than to deepen them. The score in the psychometric tests is relative, and therefore granting assistance to examinees only in Hebrew exacerbates the already existing discrimination stemming from the absence of equal opportunities for students who studied in Arab high schools.”