Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said he doesn’t understand why Palestinian officials would rather “impose a low-quality education on their kids” than adopt the Israeli curriculum. “I think it’s weird,” he said.
Barkat, running for reelection next month, praised the Israeli curriculum. “It teaches you to think and invent,” he said, instead of engaging in “repetitive learning.” The Israeli system, he said, has been proved by test scores and matriculation exams to better prepare students for university studies and the job market.
David Koren, an adviser to the mayor on East Jerusalem, said parents and students asked city officials to introduce the curriculum after being forced to fork out thousands of dollars for additional after-school programs that offer Palestinian students the extra classes needed for the exams for Israeli colleges. That, and the lower success rates among Palestinian students, inspired the municipality to try the pilot program last year.
“I speak to a lot of youngsters, and they tell me, ‘I will finish high school at 19 and what are my options? I will go to Wadi Joz and work in a car garage, or will I have a better future?’ ”
Wadi Joz is a colorful but relatively poor Arab neighborhood, filled with merchants and markets, near the Damascus Gate and the Old City.
Jerusalem is a city very much divided — including its schools.
Spending per pupil in Jewish West Jerusalem is much higher then in Arab East Jerusalem, according to a report last week from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel that said East Jerusalem needed another 1,100 public school classrooms to catch up.
Drop-out rates are higher in East Jerusalem, too; about a third of students don’t complete high school.
The Abdullah Bin Al Hussein Middle and High School for Girls, where the Israeli curriculum is being introduced in two classes in the seventh and eighth grades, sits on the seam of the Green Line, which from 1948 until Israel’s victory in the 1967 war was a no-go land between Jordan and Israel.
“If I want my students to do better in math, English, Arabic and science, I think this will be the better. If I want to open opportunities for better jobs and higher education, this is better,” said Liana Jaber, principal of the middle school for girls. “But on the other side, I personally feel it will come at the expense of their Palestinian identity.”
Most of the public and private Arab schools in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem employ Jordan’s “Tawjihi” system, which critics say relies heavily on memorization and rote learning. The Israeli schools employ the “Bagrut” system, which Israelis praise as encouraging independent problem-solving.
In the Jordanian system, administered by the Palestinian Authority, students in East Jerusalem study Hebrew two or three times a week, for an hour or so.
A father of a 14-year-old who began studying the Israeli curriculum last year, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals against his son, said he wasn’t bothered by the controversy. He said that he wants his children to go to college and that the best options for them are Israeli universities.
“[My son] is learning Hebrew, and he is learning everything. It is good for him,” he said. “We live in the state of Israel and we do not live in the Arab world. We live in Jerusalem.”
Others feel more conflicted.
Mazen Jabari, father of four and director of the Youth Development Department at the Orient House, which describes itself as “the Palestinian national gathering place for Palestinians in Occupied East Jerusalem,” opposes the introduction of the Israeli curriculum but says part of the blame lies with Palestinian education, which he called “really problematic.”
“Frankly, we feel that we are in the middle, and we don’t know what to do,” Jabari said. “We have two authorities squeezing us — the Israelis and the Palestinians.”