Thursday, November 30, 2006

Arabic in Israel

Ha'aretz reports on the problems of Arabic instruction in Israel:
"Arabic is a compulsory subject in junior high, but only is taught in 80 percent of the schools, the study finds. However, senior Education Ministry sources say that only about two thirds of junior high schools teach Arabic...

"Bar-On says that many dedicated teachers encounter not only a reluctance among pupils to study subjects considered impractical, like mathematics or English, but also prejudice and ignorance. 'The Arabic language and culture are seen as inferior and primitive,' she says.

"Only 2009 pupils took the five-unit matriculation exam in Arabic last year, 6 percent fewer than two years earlier. This is a negligible percentage of the Jewish students who took matriculation exams...

"According to the study, 63 percent of the Arabic students in high school said they were studying it because they wanted to 'serve in intelligence.' Zuf Aragman, also of Rosh Ha'ayin, chose it because she wanted to study another language. 'Pupils think that those who study Arabic do it only to get into intelligence, but that's not necessarily true. Languages are among the only things school gives you, because history, for example, I can learn from books,' she says."

Arabic is one of Israel's official languages, and the first language of an important minority of citizens and all its neighbors, making it slightly more important than Spanish in the United States. The country needs people who speak it an understand Arab culture. At the same time, however, I can relate to the decisions made by individuals. Given the nature of Israel's interaction with most of the Arab world, European languages are much more valuable, as the bookshelves in Hebrew University's library will attest.


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