The NSWAS Educational System:
Report from September 2001
September 2, 2001: With a brief ceremony, the school year opened
for 311 children in the NSWAS children's educational framework. The
children gathered on the front steps of the main school building and,
accompanied by music, first grade pupils walked between the others and
handed out olive branches and flowers – a moving, and optimistic start
to the coming year.
The weeks before start of term were very hectic. Two small houses had
to be annexed to the school and renovated for much-needed classroom space.
The changes required also the moving of fences to comply with government
regulations. All the work was finished in time.
On the day after opening, the NSWAS educational system joined
Palestinians all over Israel in their strike protesting poor conditions in
the Arab educational sector. Our decision to take part in the strike was
both to express solidarity, and to protest the poor treatment our school
receives from state authorities and local municipalities (see below).
Enrolment and teaching staff
This year 270 children are registered at the Primary School, 26 in the
kindergarten and 15 in the pre-kindergarten and nursery: an increase of
about 20 pupils over the previous year.
The school has a staff of 28 including administrative and teaching
staff. Altogether, there are 25 full-time salary positions. At pre-school
levels, there are another eight teachers and a volunteer.
There is a slight numerical advantage this year to Jews in the
educational framework (altogether about 55% and 45% Arabs). About 10% of
the students live in NSWAS, with the rest coming from some 25 communities
from several regional councils on the outside, within a radius of 40
Plans for the coming year
For the 2000-2001 school year, we have decided to emphasize the
- Strengthening the position of Arabic in the educational system.
- Crystallizing and manifesting a common educational approach.
- Supporting and developing the function of homeroom teachers.
- Improving the achievement level of pupils (without developing a
- Strengthening the staff's ability to cope with pressures from
the external environment (which have become stronger in the past
- Improvement of the organizational framework.
This year we absorbed six new teachers into our teaching staff. We know
from experience that integrating new teachers into our school is not a
simple matter, and requires a sharp learning curve on the part of the
teachers. In order to ease their integration, many meetings have been held
and materials have been produced to guide them. The management will
continue to coach the new teachers as the year progresses.
During the summer, a special framework of "empowerment" was
created for Arab teachers. This included four lecture and discussion days,
and looked at various challenges which they confront in their work. These
included methods of strengthening the teaching of Arabic to Arab and
Jewish pupils, of understanding what it means to be an Arab in a
predominantly Jewish society, how to be aware of the needs of pupils from
different sectors of the population, etc. The framework proved to be
helpful to the teachers, and we will conduct similar work with them on
related topics throughout the school year.
The Jewish teachers continue to study Arabic in order that they, like
their Arab colleagues, will be able to speak in the two languages.
An important part of every school day is the time the class spends in
its "homeroom". The homeroom teacher takes responsibility for
the well-being of the students, gives them the ability to express their
needs and interests, and initiates discussion of current affairs. This
year we have introduced the CRB Foundation's "Eshkolot /
Anakeed" program, applying it particularly at the homeroom level.
According to the program's methodology, children and teachers will look at
current events and things happening at the School, in the country and in
the world, and examine these from the perspective of the values upon which
the School is based. Besides helping to impart values and seeing how these
may be applied, the aim is to develop the children's abilities and manner
During the course of the school year we will develop our framework for
science and nature studies. The attempt will be made to approach these
subjects holistically. For instance if, in the science class, the subject
is "water", the students will look at this from all aspects,
including conservation, equality of distribution, and political control of
water sources. In nature studies, we hope during the year to develop an
"ecology corner", which will include both the plant greenhouse
and domestic animals.
In-service training for educators
If funding permits, we will bring professionals who can conduct
methodical and systematic training sessions and offer consultation for the
teaching staff. The aim will be to improve general teaching skills and
tackle specific issues of bi-lingual, bi-national education. These
sessions will also give staff members the opportunity to talk openly with
each other and deal with tensions arising from the difficult political
The involvement of parents plays a fundamental role in improving the
School and in extending its influence to the entire home community of the
students. A new parents' committee has now been elected for the coming
year. As in the past, the committee will arrange specials events, and we
hope it will resume the series of workshops initiated last year for
Also outside the parents' committee, parents are invited to involve
themselves in the work of the School, meet with teachers, and engage in
dialogue with the directors on matters that are dear to them.
Challenges facing the School
The School faces serious challenges this year on various levels, all of
which may be directly or indirectly linked to the deterioration of
relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel and the changing political
atmosphere. These challenges are in the sphere of relations with the
state, finances, responses to the external situation, and the meeting of
the pupils' educational needs.
Relations with the State
Just prior to the year 2000-2001 school year, the School the
Education Ministry upgraded the School's status to that of an official
state school. The new status was granted thanks to the positive
intervention of the education minister of the previous government
coalition, Yossi Sarid. According to the written agreement signed at the
time, the status would be provisional for one year, at the end of which it
would be reviewed by both the Ministry and the School. If either party saw
reason that the School should revert to its previous status (that of a
recognized, but non-official school), the Ministry would authorize the
The first year passed acceptably. The Ministry eased the transition by
enabling in-service training for some of the teachers, who required
additional credits before receiving full salary from the state. Also, the
Ministry agreed to continue to pay transportation expenses for the first
year, on an exceptional basis.
When the School moved into the second year, however, the Education
Ministry (now led by Limor Livnat of the Likud Party) showed much less
flexibility. Even funding normally given to recognized schools was denied.
- In-service training for teachers was not approved, requiring the
School to attempt to find its own funding for this.
- The Ministry agreed to provide a Hebrew speaking teacher for
Jewish children with learning difficulties, but not an Arabic
speaking teacher for Arab children.
- No progress was made on our request to receive funding for a new
school building, which, if we intend to extend the School to
higher grade levels, we badly need.
- Funding was refused for the renovation of buildings near the
School. These were required in order to provide classroom space
before a new building would be constructed.
- Children attending the School must formally be authorized to
attend the School by their regional councils. No regional council,
even our own – where such authorization should be more or less
automatic – has agreed to this. In effect, the parents who send
their children to our school are breaking the rules, and the
School has to operate without an authorized enrolment of
- This year, the Education Ministry, and the regional councils,
have all refused to pay transportation costs for the students. The
annual cost to us is about $200,000, for which we will somehow
have to find independent funding.
As a result of the above issues, we came to the conclusion that the
benefits we would enjoy in our previous category as a "recognized,
but non-official school" outweigh the benefits we receive as an
official state school. Accordingly, we approached the Ministry with a
request to revert to our original status. However, though the written
agreement made last year provided us with this option, the Ministry
adamantly refused to permit any reversal in our status. We therefore find
ourselves in a bind. We do not enjoy the funding benefits we received in
our previous status, and we do not enjoy the benefits that are supposed to
ensue from the current status.
Besides the dry fact of having been refused funding in these various
categories, we are also troubled by the open expression of aversion and
hostility towards the School that issues from the Ministry and in the
Regional Councils. Officials in these places do not hide their objection
to the School's very existence. We attribute this both to the political
turnaround and to the ongoing crisis in Jewish – Arab relations since
September 2000. We will continue in our efforts to press the Ministry
either to provide the mentioned funding or to agree to a return to our
An additional disappointment comes with regard to the School's
Experimental Status. Though we were supposed to enter our fifth year as an
Experimental School, this year the Ministry refused to renew the
agreement, and placed the final year on hold. It judged that the
conclusions we submitted at the close of the 2000-2001 school year were
inadequate. Effectually, therefore, the Ministry will deny the
supplementary funding concordant with that status, and put on hold our
plan to establish a research centre at the School.
Implications on the budget and fundraising
As a result of the above-mentioned difficulties, we will face serious
funding difficulties in the 2001-2002 school year. The Ministry, which
should normally cover all teachers' salaries, effectively pays only 60%.
This stems partly from a slight shortfall in student enrolment at two
grade levels, and from the larger teaching staff required to maintain a
The balance must come from tuition fees paid by parents, and
independent funding sources. Our most serious difficulty is with the sum
of approximately $200,000 that must be found for transportation of pupils.
In addition, we will need to find funding for in-service training and
other funding categories. Our exact budgetary needs will become clearer in
the coming months.
Tuition fees for the parents this year are NIS 4,000 (about $950). A
reduction is made if two or more children attend the School. Needy
families receive additional discounts and easier schedules of payment.
Donor support comes from foundations that support the Educational
System, and individual donors. We are extremely grateful to the following
foundations that provide current support:
The Abraham Fund
The Kennedy Leigh Charitable Trust
The Beracha Foundation
The CRB Foundation
The Latroun Monastery
The Fohs Foundation
The Rich Foundation
The Jewish Federation
of the Greater East Bay
Rotary Club of Cleveland
The Thomasses Fund
Thanks also to the many individuals and groups who have contributed and
joined us in our efforts.
Independent donations are usually received via the NSWAS Friends'
Associations. The Associations help in fundraising efforts, both for NSWAS
as a whole and for the School in particular. One avenue is through the
tuition support program, which enables individual donors to help the
School subsidize the costs of educating a pupil beyond the amount covered
by state funding or tuition fees. New options based on the tuition support
program are now being considered.
Influence of the political climate in Israel
The tense atmosphere in the region, which has not improved since the
events of September-October 2000, affects the establishment, the NSWAS
community, the parents and the teachers. At the School, the crisis has
been felt in the following areas:
The change in the political climate has resulted in aversion,
hostility and the unwillingness to provide support by the state
authorities (as mentioned).
Parents have expressed anxieties regarding the position of their
children at the School, especially when the external environment
is fraught with violence.
Arab parents and others in the community have shown less
patience with the inability of the School to provide as yet a
framework in which Arabic enjoys true linguistic equality with
Hebrew. This reflects dynamics in the external environment, where
Arabs have begun to show less tolerance for false overtures
Despite the above issues, it can be stated that the NSWAS Primary
School has managed to weather the crisis. It has not caused parents to
withdrawn their children from the School, and this school year's
registration was at a good level.
Comparisons with the situation of the other binational schools
As will be known to some of our readers, the Association for Bilingual
Education in Israel has in recent years managed to establish three
frameworks for bilingual schooling in the country: one in the Galilee, one
in Jerusalem, and a third in Jaffa. Though considerably smaller in size
and age-range, these schools are doing a good job in extending the model
of binational schooling to other communities. We maintain friendly
contacts with them. In the past year, the new school in Jerusalem
consulted with the NSWAS School on the subject of the presentation of
Like us, these bilingual schools have had to struggle with the
worsening political climate. They have faced difficulties in maintaining
levels of student registration, particularly with regard to the enrolment
of Jews. On the positive side, they have managed to obtain greater support
from the state and their local authorities.
Debate over the School within the Community
It is not new that parents express concern regarding the status of
Arabic at the School. In a situation where there is direct symmetry
between the number of Jewish and Arab children and staff, and where equal
time is allotted to the two languages, linguistic equality does not
emerge, since Hebrew enjoys a superior position as the majority language
of the society as a whole. This affects not only the achievement level of
Jewish children in Arabic, but also the degree to which the Arab students
master their own language. In addition, it has serious psychological
effects on the pupils, and tends to undermine the message of equality that
the School attempts to impart. One solution being looked at is to conduct
more of the classes in Arabic, based on the "immersion" system
that has been used in Canada and California. However, Jewish parents, the
majority of whom live outside the community, would not be happy to send
their children to a framework where the majority of the teaching is in
Another related issue is the achievement level of Arab children, and
the question of their integration into high school after leaving the NSWAS
School. Arab children from NSWAS have less of a choice over where their
children will continue after leaving the School. The only viable option
for Arab children graduating from the School has proved to be the
Christian Orthodox School in Ramle (which takes children from 1st
to 12th grades). The latter, being a private school with
limited enrolment, employs a selection process that favours children of
sound academic achievement. Children coming from the NSWAS School have
generally been accepted at the Orthodox School and integrated well there.
Still, since Arab parents from NSWAS see this private school as being the
only real option for the continuation of their children's education, it is
understandable that they should feel anxious about the progress of their
children, and sometimes transfer them to the Orthodox School at an age
earlier than necessary in order to ensure them a place. Because of the
issue of the continuation of the Arab children's education, and the fact
that, as the minority group, they must work harder in order to guarantee
their future, Arab parents tend to show greater concern for their
children's level of academic achievement than do Jewish parents, who
usually have subtly different expectations of the School.
Towards the end of the previous school year, the NSWAS community and
secretariat appointed an independent committee to consider these and
related issues and make recommendations to the School. The committee is
working with the school management in order to find solutions, and some
ideas are already being implemented.
What the future holds
Growth and development of the School
This year we have reached the last year in our five-year plan to have
two classes at each grade level. From a total of 70 students in the School
in 1996, the School has grown to an enrolment of 270 students today. The
purpose of the plan was to provide the minimal conditions according to
which it might be feasible to extend the School to the junior high school
level (and perhaps later to senior high school level), beginning in 2002.
We now need to reach a final decision on whether to continue the School
to the 7th grade level at the start of the next school year.
Among the criteria will be the advisability of this option, given the
continuing challenge of providing a framework of linguistic equality, the
question of whether to take on an additional academic burden, the
considerable economic question marks, our relations with the educational
establishment, and the necessity to devote a large sum of money towards
In order to decide these questions, a special team was appointed during
the last school year by the plenum and the secretariat. The committee's
conclusion was that it was not possible to form an opinion while relations
between Jews and Arabs in Israel were at such a tense juncture. During the
current school year, the School management will ask the community to
re-evaluate the situation and reach a timely conclusion.
Construction of a New Building
While a large sum has already been committed by donors towards new
construction, we hoped to obtain funding for a new building from the
state. We ourselves have fulfilled all of the requirements requested by
the Education Ministry for this purpose, including turning over the
ownership of the necessary land to the state. However, till now, the
Ministry has not committed itself to funding the project. This year, we
will make a final attempt, and if this does not succeed, we will have to
rely upon the sum of money raised for construction by donors. The deadline
for our decision will be April 2002.
In view of the continuing crisis in Arab-Jewish relations, the emphasis
at the School and, indeed, of most frameworks that focus on relations
between the two peoples in Israel today, is necessarily upon survival
alone. The situation outside affects children, parents and the teaching
When viewed from this perspective, our ability to continue is itself an
achievement. It becomes a source of optimism to us that our Jewish and
Arab pupils are happy to return each day to school. With all the
difficulties, the joy the children receive from their educational home has
not diminished. To see and experience this is our true and great reward.
Together, these children create a framework of binational relations and
joint study that is surely unique in the world. In addition, the influence
of this framework extends to the parents and communities from which the
children come. Parents too go through a continual process of reassessment
of Jewish – Arab relations and gain new insights and understanding.
Today, the ability of this framework to continue depends more and more
upon the support we receive from parents who continue to send their pupils
to the School, upon the continued resilience of our teaching staff, and
upon our friends outside who are willing to make personal sacrifices to
Our sincere thanks and love go out to all of these.