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Israel's Forgotten Students

Today's blogpost was written by Ethan Harrington-Smith, a Yahel Social Change fellow living, learning and volunteering for 9-months in the city of Rishon LeZion.

Israel is a multicultural society that has chosen not to adopt an educational policy of multiculturalism.

It sounds ridiculous -- especially when you consider the country’s ethnic diversity -- but the Israeli school system is in near-constant cultural disarray. Government officials are rarely in office long enough to standardize education, meaning newer policies are reworked or rewritten entirely. Consistency is naught, and any organized approach is tossed out the window.

But the Israeli school system is getting a lift, and it’s thanks to a the support of NGO’s like the Israel Center for Educational Innovation.


Right now, one of the biggest limiting factors in Israeli education is the overemphasis on Jewish statebuilding.

Ingrained in every lesson plan is Jewish and Hebrew history, the ideals, and the spiritual philosophy, and though some schools are more liberal with their curricula, there’s still an expectation that all students know the basics.

This is particularly problematic for students with little to no Jewish background, like the Arab-Israelis who end up in state-run schools. Most of them are from low socio-economic foundations, and that financial disparity is reflected in poor academics. Out of the four-hundred Israeli schools considered to be ‘failing’, two-hundred of them are categorically Arab.

However, Arabs aren’t the only marginalized group who struggles. Ethiopian immigrants are also dealing with poverty and prejudice. Families who speak little to no Hebrew can’t communicate with schools about their children’s needs, and the children don’t get the support necessary for academic success. This has fostered a culture of low expectations in teachers, which in turn leads to feelings of hopelessness.

A self—fulfilling prophecy is born, and the cycle repeats.

But the cycle is about to be broken.


Introducing the Israel Center for Educational Innovation. Introducing hope.

To shift the dynamic, ICEI has changed how schools handle education. They enlist the help of coordinators and literacy training coaches, and outside the schools, their cultural ambassadors work with families as mentors.

ICEI has had a decade of successes (and failures, too), but their newest initiatives have reduced the link between low socio-economic status and poor academics. The immigrant students, once left behind by their teachers and peers, are catching back up, and though there’s still thousands who need help, the number is getting lower every year.

While Israel might not be willing to adopt an educational policy of multiculturalism, thankfully, agencies like ICEI are doing the job for it.

Learn more about ICEI’s work here.

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