Bilingual Education in Jerusalem – Hand-in-Hand School
| 2021 | 17:00
Bilingual Education in Jerusalem – Hand-in-Hand School
- In Hebrew
- In Hebrew
A meeting with Amin Khalaf, the co-founder and co-CEO of the Hand-in-Hand non-profit organization until 2011. He is today a lecturer at the Ono Academic College and the David Yellin Academic College of Education in Jerusalem, and manager of a language-teaching center in East Jerusalem. Amin discussed with us the findings of his doctoral research, which focused on bilingual education.
Bilingual schools – Hand-in-Hand School Network
All the bilingual schools in Israel were established by non-profit organizations and private initiatives. In almost all cases, the Ministry of Education and the local authorities opposed the establishment of such schools from the get go, and did not support them financially. The Ministry of Education still has an ambivalent attitude to such schools.
The bilingual schools established by Hand-in-Hand are an island of equality in a sea of inequality. In his doctoral thesis, Khalaf examined how Hand-in-Hand schools deal with the challenges of inequality, and tried to clarify the political and historical issues with which these schools have to contend, to evaluate the extent of the success of their educational strategy, and compare the situation in Israel with similar cases elsewhere.
Bilingual schools, where pupils study and live together, are a highly significant measure in eliminating barriers, fostering friendship, and getting acquainted with another language. But even today, over 20 years after the establishment of the first such schools in the Galilee and in Jerusalem, there is no clear policy in regard to such schools. The Ministry of Education enjoys displaying them for all to see when presenting the face of Israel to guests from abroad, but in practice, they do not fund these schools, focusing mainly on deepening regulation as to questions of pupils’ identity, and on limiting the schools’ freedom of action.
The curriculum taught in the school is that in-use in Israeli schools – and combines the curriculums for the Jewish and the Arab sectors in Israel, with some changes made in the study of History and Civics. The teachers undergo many training programs on how to make the necessary cultural adjustments – for example, regarding the choice of texts to teach. The Hand-in-Hand network operates one secondary school; the other schools in the network are primary schools.
Multiculturalism and Reciprocal Influences
The academic literature offers a number of different definitions for the concept of “multiculturalism”. There is disagreement regarding the question of the reciprocal cultural influence between different groups and the extent to which assimilation of one group within another is desirable.
- It seems that most school principals currently actively espouse the notion of “liberal multiculturalism”, which brings individual talents to the fore while erasing expressions of identity. This approach ignores the issue of power relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel, and encourages each group to undergo change internally, and not to demand this from the other group. There is no significant difference in the way that Jewish and Arab principals regard multiculturalism.
- Many Jewish principals wish to implement the partnership with the Arab sector without significantly changing Israel’s national and political structure. They wish to promote people as individuals, not necessarily as a national group.
- The status of the Arab language in schools is a concrete example of the delicate situation regarding multiculturalism in bilingual schools:
The state of Arabic teaching in schools is in line with the general discourse in Israel regarding the status of the Arabic language, which was recently changed under what is called Basic Law: Israel – The Nation State of the Jewish People, from being one of Israel’s official languages to that of a “special status” language. Hand-in-Hand has always seen bilingualism as one of the cornerstones of its activity. Language is an integral part of one’s identity and reflects the power relations in society. This is why Hand-in-Hand developed the bilingual model, to strive toward language equality. But these efforts do not always bear fruit, and Hebrew continues to be the dominant language.
Hand-in-Hand School Network Achievements
- The schools’ most significant achievement is that they have been able to continue to exist in Israel’s complex reality, even when the political climate changed from an atmosphere of hope for peace, when the schools were first established in 1997, to the Intifada and to the current situation, in which a peace process is not even discussed.
- The success of our alumni in their studies and in growing up to be involved, aware, complex individuals and contributing to society. However, no one claims that the schools have succeeded in bringing about significant change or in influencing the Jewish-Arab conflict, as was hoped for when they were first established.
Multicultural Education – Israel vs. Examples from Abroad
In general, the educational system is a conservative system which operates as one of the state’s control mechanisms, especially in periods of conflict. This raises the question of whether the education system can be a place of change? Somewhere that enables the development of a different reality? Can it be influential? But the answer is that in order for this to happen, efforts must be concentrated at the grass-root level – from the bottom up.
In Cyprus the countries of the EU required the establishment of intercultural schools. But in Israel and in Ireland such initiatives came from the ground, through non-profit organizations and private initiatives, that only received support from the Ministry of Education at a later stage.
Major change within the system can occur in several instances:
- When external coercion forces the system to change, as was the case in Cyprus
- When there is a change in the general atmosphere and a progress in the peace process, as was the case in Northern Ireland
- When the weaker group becomes strengthened and proposed an alternative to the existing system
Ignoring the power relations between partners cannot lead to change. If there is a lack in equality, then ‘even handedness’ which ignores differences will also not lead to equality. Hence there is a bigger chance of reaching equality, or at least moving toward a degree of symmetry, if an affirmative-action model which favors the Arab society is adopted.
Questions and Answers
Q: How many of the Jerusalem school pupils are Northern Israelis and how many come from East Jerusalem?
A: In general, the school is intended for pupils who are Israeli citizens. We do not wish to impose Israeli education on those who are not interested in it. This issue has been raised many times, and is a complicated one. The dominant side cannot make a decision for East Jerusalem parents – as to what education to give their children. Today this is still a burning issue. I hold the minority opinion. The principals did eventually decide to also enroll pupils from East Jerusalem, and their proportion in the school is rising. This dilemma exemplifies the situation in all of East Jerusalem. The Ministry of Education is trying to impose Israeli education in East Jerusalem; some people vocally oppose this, and others are more in agreement. I continue to believe that the East Jerusalemites must learn Hebrew, and that one of the most significant obstacles is a lack of suitable Hebrew-language books. The books from which East Jerusalemites have learned were Ministry of Education books aimed at Jewish new immigrants, filled with Zionism, and state symbols, such as flags etc. – a fact which added to opposition even by those who truly did wish to learn the language. Another popular book was published by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and was aimed at students, especially those rooted in Western culture. I succeeded in raising funds for the development of two books intended and suitable for the people of East Jerusalem, and they are today among the most sought-after books.
Q: The feeling is that at the end of the day there’s no equality, only dominance of Hebrew and of Jews.
A: Yes, there are all sorts of views and ideas on how to promote equality. In the past, our goal was to change the entire reality. Today our aspirations are lower: we are talking mainly about creating an enriching and positive experience for pupils who graduate from the school. There are those who claim that this is the way to bring forward the wanted change.
Q: Is the socioeconomic status of the Jewish population in the school different from the socioeconomic status of the Arab population in the school? What about the school alumni? Can you recognize the impact of the school on their choices and their career path later in life?
A: Generally speaking, we can say that in both populations, the pupils come from a middle-class socioeconomic status. This is one of the criticisms voiced against the school – that they cater for the elite, preaching to the choir etc. Naturally, the populations drawn to this ideology come from a higher socioeconomic class. But parents’ financial situation was never a barrier for those who wished to enrol their children.
As for the alumni, this is indeed the issue on which we intend to focus in further research. The school has an alumni organization, but it is not especially active. The principals report from meeting our alumni that the school has an ongoing influence, and that our alumni grow up to be influential and contributing, but no serious research has been conducted on this matter, as of yet. Of course, the question of our alumni can answer the big question – namely, is all this effort even worth it?
The trend today is less ideological and more pragmatic, and hence we see phenomena such as dropping-out of high schools, especially among Jewish pupils who move to other, ordinary, high schools. Many parents agree that studying together and getting to know one another is good for when at primary school, but that regarding high school, the children should go to good schools, and not to the bilingual school, which for them entails giving up on further development opportunities in the future.
Q: How can we advance these issues and make them known to more parents? We should think of an innovative strategy to engage more people in the bilingual effort.
A: The answer is always – keep working. Don’t despair. Everyone should do what they can and continue their work in their own area of activity. Anyone can promote issues. One of the reasons I left the school is that I believe this model should continue beyond schools. Today we have both the knowledge and the experience to propose some real suggestions to create bilingual models in Israel and elsewhere to the policy-makers. A non-profit organization cannot implement such a change on its own – the state’s involvement is necessary.