Independent Media Center- Heather Moore
In Jerusalem, most schools are government funded, but that doesn’t mean all schools receive the same amount of money. The students of Arab descent and the students of Jewish decent do not attend the same schools. The state of Israel insists all schools are of comparable quality—both Arabic and Israeli—but that is not the case. A short comparison of a few schools in the Jerusalem area will show that how some students are disadvantaged over others.
I visited four schools to do a short comparison: two predominately Jewish schools, one Arabic school located beyond the 1947 partition and one Arabic school in East Jerusalem. All schools were for both Junior High and High School students.
Ziv High School is a predominately Jewish school on the West Side of Jerusalem. The school is tucked away from the road by a chain-link fence and trees and plants. Just inside the front door, there is a large case with many trophies inside. The school is very clean with a colorful interior. Ziv gave the impression that it is a very safe environment for the students. The building itself was nothing impressive and it looked very aged. The students were hanging out in the hallways, lying on the floor and doing group projects, and it was very noisy.
Rene Cassin is a predominately Jewish school in North Jerusalem. At first glace, it gives off the appearance of being very spacious and nice. The school is set back, a little away from the street and is fenced in. There is a large, open patio with a lot of plants outside where the students can hang out where the lawn is manicured and well kept. There is a small stand where the students can buy snacks for their lunch just outside the main door. The halls are wide, clean and with student’s artwork displayed all around. The building seemed very new and in excellent condition. This school building was extremely nice.
Abu Gosh is a predominately Arabic school located on the outskirts of Jerusalem—on the far Northwest side of the city—beyond the 1947 partition. It is much more of a fortress than a school. I was most surprised by this school. Although it is a public high school, it gives off the appearance of being a private school or even university because of the high quality of materials and the look of the building. The school is protected by a fence and by a guarded iron gate. Inside the school grounds, there is a huge, grassy space where the students lounge around and socialize. Inside the school is welcoming and intimidating hall. The building seemed very new, in great condition and architecturally modern. The walls and halls were very clean.
Abu Gosh school
Beit Safafa High School is the least advantaged school of the four. It is located in a crowded neighborhood in East Jerusalem. There doesn’t seem to be any businesses around the school and it gives off the impression of being a very low-income area. The school population is exclusively Arab. The large open space before the school entrance is made of concrete and while I was there, was filled with only boys. It wasn’t inviting. The building seemed very old. The dim, fluorescent lighting showed overcrowded hallways. On the sidewalk, it is possible to hear the low roar of the students and inside, there seemed to be a mild noise problem.
Beit Safafa school
Religion in schools
The teachers at Ziv School said the students at the school were almost exclusively Jewish. The teachers of the school discussed the religious background of the students to be extremely important. One guidance counselor even expressed her belief and dissapointment that no Muslim student would feel accepted in the school. In fact, of the 5 teachers I spoke with, all of the administration discussed how important being Jewish was to them personally. However, of the many students in the hallways, none of them seemed to be dressed in a noticeably religious way—the girls did not cover their hair and the boys were not wearing kippahs. In fact, many of the girls were wearing short sleeves and makeup.
Renne Cassin is located in a very orthodox neighborhood and most of the students are quite religious (Jewish) and it is not uncommon to see students wearing kippah. Occasionally, there are school-wide assemblies—some with the subject of, “in what ways am I Jewish?” But at the same time, school assemblies also addressed issues, such as racism and tried to promote understanding between people of different religious backgrounds. Renne Cassin seemed much more liberal compared to Ziv and there were a handful of Muslim students. Even so, none of the current Muslim students wear hijab or stick out visually as a Muslim.
All the students in AbuGosh identified with Islam. While a few of the girls and female teachers were not wearing hijab, the vast majority was veiled.
In Beit Safafa, the school is also exclusively Muslim. Although both schools were Muslim majority, Beit Safafa gave off a general feeling of being more religious than the AbuGosh school. The students seemed better behaved and more respectful to their elders than they were in AbuGosh and nearly all the females I encountered were wearing hijab.
Security of the buildings
Ziv school had one security guard at the front of the building and the other waiting at a table just inside the front door. Rene Cassin also had a guard protecting the main entrance to the fence. Abu Gosh was surrounded by a concrete wall with a sturdy gate at the entrance and security guard positioned to check identification. Beit Safafa was the only school that does not have any security guards. There was a fence separating the school from the road, but there were no other security measures.
Elective courses and equipment
All the schools had a lot of writing on the desks and chairs. It seems the students didn’t care if they defaced the equipment and the schools didn’t care to clean it off. This aside, of the four schools, Abu Gosh and Rene Cassin were in the best condition. There are ample amounts of space for the students, extra classrooms and good equipment.
Rameen AbuGosh, the Lab Teacher at AbuGosh says all the equipment she uses in the science lab is of a university level, not just a high school level. She used to work at Beit Safafa in Jerusalem where there isn’t any lab. If something in the lab or the classroom breaks (anything from desks to beakers), it is very easy to get the equipment replaced. She insisted that all it would take is to go to the municipality, order the new equipment and the new equipment would be there for them.
The Ziv school has smart boards and expensive curriculum electives, such as film and cinema.
Rene Cassin and Ziv also have a variety of equipment to support their elective curriculum. Students can take courses in theatre, cinema, biology and physics. Vice Principal, Rochale Feitelson, says not all schools are that fortunate, “There are differences in the schools because of what can and cannot be studied. For example an extra-class like cinema is very expensive, if the school population cannot afford to pay for the equipment, then they should only chose courses like literature, that the students can afford.” Administration in Rene Cassin said it is very difficult for them to obtain the proper funding for the school to keep these elective courses going and they could be shut down. They have sent many requests for updated equipment (e.g. computers) but unlike Abu Gosh, they have no guarantee of receiving the funds they request.
Beit Safafa does not have the possibility to provide elective courses. The school doesn’t have money or space for classes beyond the required curriculum. In fact, their equipment is by far the poorest of all the schools. Not every classroom has enough chairs for all the students in every class. One teacher said that often, her students have to leave the classroom and search for available chairs in other rooms. The size of the chairs vary greatly so that some might be very small while others are very large, making it difficult for students to use desks properly.
Extra Curricular Sports
Ziv had an award winning basketball and tennis team. Rene Cassin has basketball, tennis and track and field teams. Abu Gosh is preparing to begin school sports teams, but they have not been able to yet. Beit Safafa does not have any sports and did not even have an indoor gymnasium.
Number of Students
Of the four schools, Abu Gosh had the fewest students with 725 students. The class size ranged from 32 to 37 students to one teacher. Rene Cassin had the second lowest number of students at 1,000 and a class size of 30-40 students. Ziv has 1,100 students and class sizes always in the upper 30s. Beit Safafa is the most overcrowded by far with 1,600 students. The Hebrew teacher at Beit Safafa said the student to teacher ratio is 40 to 1. She said it’s difficult to have so many students, “I try to explain for all of them. But I can’t know if they really understand or not. I can’t ask all of them. I can’t ask the 40, I can maybe ask the 20”.
Rene Cassin was the only school of the four that provided transportation to and from school. All other students have to use public transportation or be driven by their family. Ziv is located just off the tram in Jerusalem and most students live within walking distance. Abu Gosh is not far from a bus stop, but most students are driven by their parents or by drivers arranged by their family. In Beit Safafa, the students rely on Micro Busses to come to and from school.
English Speaking skills
The school teacher’s ability to speak English is a sign of the education level of the school. Of all the schools, Rene Cassin administration had the best English skill level. At Ziv, the teachers I spoke with spoke English very well. However, the Principal and Vice Principal only had basic English-speaking skill level. Abu Gosh had a few teachers who spoke English very well, but the Principal was not able to communicate in English. Beit Safafa had a couple of teachers who spoke English. However, even then, many of the teachers had a lot of trouble expressing themselves in the English language.
The funding of the junior high grades comes from the Israeli govement and it is supposed to be the same for all government schools. One Beit Safafa teacher said that is not the case. According to her, the Jewish schools get “1,300 shekles per student. Here, we get 800 only.” This teacher’s clam could not be confirmed.
The teacher’s salaries all come from the Israeli government and they are according to a formula considering experience and education. The high schools funding comes from the municipality and from the students themselves, not from government finances.
After this investigation, a conclusion can be drawn that the Arabic students of Beit Safafa are disadvantaged more than those at the other schools. While every school insisted that they need more money, Beit Safafa had the highest population, the largest class size, the fewest elective courses and no extra curricular activities. The local municipality is in charge of funding portions of the school’s budget. The average Arabic community in Jerusalem has more financial troubles than the Jewish communities and their public education system reflects that.