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 kilometers.

Plans for the coming year

For the 2000-2001 school year, we have decided to emphasize the following objectives:

  • 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 competitive atmosphere).
  • Strengthening the staff's ability to cope with pressures from the external environment (which have become stronger in the past year).
  • Improvement of the organizational framework.
Studies

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 of thinking.

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 situation.

Parents' Involvement

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 parents.

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 reversal.

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. Some examples:

  • 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 students.
  • 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 previous status.

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 bilingual framework.

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

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

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

Kindermissionswerk, Aachen

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 towards coexistence.

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 holidays.

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 Arabic.

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 new construction.

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.

Summary

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 staff alike.

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 provide funding.

Our sincere thanks and love go out to all of these.