Arabic to become compulsory in Israeli schools

Benjamin Netanyahu talks to Israeli school children (file) There has been increasing demand from students to study Arabic as part of their matriculation certificate

The Israeli authorities are introducing a new scheme to make Arabic-language classes compulsory in state schools.

The programme, which will start in 170 schools in northern Israel, will make lessons mandatory for fifth graders.

Education officials hope the scheme, called "Ya Salam", will turn language into a cultural bridge and promote tolerance between Jews and Arabs.

Arab students currently are required to learn Hebrew while Jewish children can take Arabic as an additional language.

Start Quote

Studying Arabic will promote tolerance and convey a message of acceptance”

End Quote Shlomo Alon Israeli Ministry of Education

But increasing demand from students to study Arabic as part of their school matriculation certificate, the Bagrut, had prompted changes to the national curriculum, officials said.

"We live in a country that has two official languages," Shlomo Alon, head of Arabic and Islamic Education at the ministry of education, was quoted as saying by Haaretz newspaper.

"Studying Arabic will promote tolerance and convey a message of acceptance."

Mr Alon said the ministry was interested in recognising all of the state's citizens and providing opportunities for Arab teachers within Israeli education. There are some 1,000 Arabic teachers, most of them Jewish.

"The state aspires to complete equality of citizenship. We will not deal with conflicts based on cultural identity," he added.

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