Vocational education is less available to Palestinian Arab students than to Jewish students, and a smaller proportion follow vocational tracks. Those who do follow vocational tracks receive education of a lower quality in more limited areas and perform less well on the matriculation examinations.
Vocational education is an important part of the right to education, and the prohibition on discrimination in education includes discrimination in vocational education. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights specifies in article 13(2) that "[s]econdary education in its different forms, including technical and vocational secondary education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means."64 The Convention on the Rights of the Child contains a similar provision.65
Vocational education in Israel (also called technological education) includes both schools devoted only to vocational subjects as well as "comprehensive schools" offering both academic and vocational subjects, or "tracks." Students who elect a vocational track may take matriculation examinations with either a vocational or an academic emphasis.
Approximately eighty vocational schools (also called industrial or technological schools) provide work-oriented education for secondary students and are recognized by the government as an important tool in retaining students who might otherwise drop out.66 Israel's vocational schools were originally designed to absorb low-achieving Jewish students, primarily Mizrahim. Nongovernmental organizations, which run most vocational schools, did not begin running vocational schools in Palestinian Arab villages until the 1980s.67
To provide vocational education, the government contracts with other bodies, namely ORT, `Amal, and Amit. ORT is a vocational and technological training organization founded in Russia in 1880 for needy Jewish communities and currently operating around the world.68 `Amal is a school network run by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, established in 1928. Amit is a Jewish women's organization that runs religious schools. The Ministry of Education gives the money it would otherwise give to local authorities for secondary education directly to these organizations69; in 1997 this constituted 20.8 percent of its funds allocated for secondary schools' budgets. According to the ministry, it allocates more per pupil in technological/vocational education than general education because technological/vocational education costs more to provide.70
For many Palestinian Arab students, vocational education is not the buffer against dropping out that it is for Jewish students. By any measurement, a smaller proportion of Palestinian Arab students than Jewish students participate in vocational education. Of all students enrolled in vocational schools in 1999-2000, 12.6 percent were enrolled in Arab schools and 87.4 percent were enrolled in Jewish schools.71 (In contrast, 18.9 percent of all students in general secondary schools were Palestinian Arab.)72 By sector, 30.0 percent of students in Arab secondary schools were enrolled in vocational schools, compared with 38.9 percent of students in Jewish secondary schools.73
By age seventeen, most Jewish students who have left the academic track have gone to vocational or agricultural schools. In contrast, most Palestinian Arab students who have left the academic track have dropped out. Roughly half of both Jewish and Palestinian Arab seventeen-year-olds students were still in a general secondary school in 1998-1999--48.9 percent of Palestinian Arab seventeen-year-olds and 56.1 percent of Jewish seventeen-year-olds.74 Moreover, the number of Jewish students attending a general secondary school included students in continuation classes in kibbutzim, an option not available for Palestinian Arab students. If these students were not included in the total, presumably the difference in Jewish and Palestinian Arab students attending general secondary school would be even smaller. Of those seventeen-year-olds not in general secondary schools, 33.5 percent of Jews attended vocational and agricultural schools and 10.4 percent had dropped out, compared with 19.4 percent of Palestinian Arab seventeen-year-olds who attended vocational schools and 31.7 percent who had dropped out.75 Thus, while more Jewish students stayed in other kinds of education, more Palestinian Arab students dropped out all together.
One reason for this difference appears to be that there are simply fewer Arab vocational schools. When we asked the Ministry of Education for data about vocational schools, we were referred to ORT.76 When we asked how many of its schools were for Palestinian Arabs, ORT/Israel's spokesperson responded that ORT did not maintain these statistics.77 However, the director of an ORT school attended only by Palestinian Arabs, who requested that his name be withheld, told Human Rights Watch that there were three ORT schools for Palestinian Arabs: one each in Haifa, Nazareth, and Na'ura.78 "This is the only [Arab] vocational school in the whole area, I'm sure," he said. "Students come by bus. Some travel a long way. Students break the fast [during the month of Ramadan] here because of the distance."79 According to ORT/Israel's website, it operates ninety-three high schools, industrial high schools, and junior high schools in the country.80
At issue is not only the availability of vocational education but also the quality of what is offered. The Israeli government concedes that the level of vocational education varies significantly among schools. It reported to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2001: "The level of education offered to students in technological/vocational tracks varies widely from school to school. Some technological tracks are on a very high level and prepare students to take matriculation examinations . . . while others provide only low-level vocational training, and prepare students for matriculation examinations only in part, if at all."81
The distinction between vocational and technological education is critical. Sherrie Gazit, ORT/Israel's spokesperson, wrote to Human Rights Watch:
ORT's principle is to equip a student with the tools to enable him to provide a living for himself--once this related to vocations such as carpentry, joinery, mechanics. Nowadays this is not vocational as the skills which are in demand nowadays (in Israel at least) are related to hi-tech professions. Consequently we emphasize advanced science and technology subjects in our schools.82However, according to Zafer Shurbaji, of the Fund for the Development of Technological Education in the Arab Sector in Israel:
Palestinian Arab students have fewer vocational subjects to choose from than Jewish students do. According to a 1996 study, nineteen vocational subjects were offered in Arab schools in Israel, compared with more than ninety offered in Jewish schools.84 ORT/Israel's website lists fifty-six possible subjects of study but indicates that in 1999 ORT Nazareth Technological (Arab) High School offered: "Electronics and Electrotechnics" (128 students), "Mechanics" (331 students), and "Secretarial Studies" (116 students).85 Similarly, Human Rights Watch visited an Arab ORT vocational school that offered only five vocational subjects: "electronics, automobile mechanics, machinery, accounting, and computers."86 According to the school's director, the best students studied computers, which included a biotechnology component.87Vocational education is doing by hand; technological education is doing by mind, like programming the computer. We can see technological education in the Jewish sector. They say it is there in the Arab sector but it is not. It is called the same thing but inside, it is different, the program is different. . . . In the Arab sector there are not the same books and not the same projects as the Jewish sector. . . . ORT and `Amal are teaching both vocational and high-tech education, called "technological education." They prepare Jewish students for the army. They don't teach the same things in the Arab and Jewish sectors because the level is different. We see the consequences in the university--there are fewer Arab students in technology.83
A physics teacher at the school, when asked if there were differences between his school and Jewish vocational schools, told Human Rights Watch that, "they have more activities, types of vocations, and after-school programs."88 When we asked the director to compare tracks that were offered in Jewish vocational schools with those at his school, he responded: "This is the main difference between us and the Jewish schools. They [Jewish students] can find work in [these areas]."89 Similarly, a Bedouin graduate of an `Amal comprehensive secondary school in the Negev, with both academic and vocational tracks, when asked how many vocational subjects were taught at his school, responded: "There are few vocational programs--it's not enough. It's difficult to be an expert after you graduate from school in technology or computers. And even if you have a specialty in one subject, it's hard to get a job afterwards. Even for students with great artistic skills, they lack courses in schools in arts and dance."90
An eleventh-grade girl in Nazareth at a comprehensive Arab secondary school explained how her school was different from an ORT high school: "We have physics and math and they don't," she said. "They have other lessons--mechanics, electronics."91 Human Rights Watch also visited an Arab comprehensive high school in the Triangle region that offered vocational classes, which the principal categorized as either "low" or "high," as well as academic classes. The vocational subjects were: electronics, mechanics, fashion, engineering of buildings, communications, tourism, sports, ecology and environmental studies, computers and information technology, and biotechnology.92 The "higher" technological subjects were introduced about three years ago, he said.
Palestinian Arab students in vocational education fare worse than Jewish students on the matriculation examinations. In 1999, 35.7 percent of Palestinian Arab students who took vocational matriculation examinations passed, compared with 52.2 percent of Jewish students.93 In total, Palestinian Arab students made up only 9.7 percent of all students passing technological matriculation examinations in 1999.94
64 ICESCR, art. 13(2). See Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), art. 26(1), adopted December 10, 1948, G.A. Res. 217A(III), U.N. Doc. A/810; General Comment 13, The Right to Education, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, para. 15-16.
67 Human Rights Watch interview with Yair Levin, Deputy Director-General, Head of International Relations of the Ministry of Education, Jerusalem, December 19, 2000; Swirski, Politics and Education in Israel, pp. 180-182.
68 "ORT" is a Russian acronym for "Obshestwo Propostranienia Truda," meaning "The Society for Handicrafts and Agricultural Work"; however, the organization now calls itself the "Organisation for Rehabilitation and Training." World ORT, "The World ORT Union," http://www.ort.org/ort/wou/wou.htm (accessed on May 28, 2001).
69 Sherrie Gazit, Director, Foreign Relations Section, Department of Marketing, Public Relations, and Foreign Affairs, ORT/Israel, e-mail to Human Rights Watch, March 1, 2001; and Human Rights Watch interview with Director, ORT Technological High School, Israel, December 9, 2000.
84 The Fund for Promoting Technological Education in the Arab Community in Israel (Arabic), unpublished paper presented to the "Equality Conference," Nazareth, December 1996, on file with the Follow-Up Committee for Arab Education, cited in Adalah and the Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA), Equal Rights and Minority Rights for the Palestinian Arab Minority in Israel: A Report to the UN Human Rights Committee on Israel's Implementation of Articles 26 and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, July 1998, p. 56.
85 ORT Israel, "Schools Site: Info," http://www3.ort.org.il/archive/schools/ (accessed on March 8 and May 15, 2001). According to an ORT Israel representative, this database was updated until 1999. Sherrie Gazit, Director, Foreign Relations Section, Department of Marketing, Public Relations, and Foreign Affairs, ORT/Israel, e-mail to Human Rights Watch, March 18, 2001.