The past decades have seen remarkable changes in education within Arab Israeli society, with particularly prominent changes evident among Arab Israeli women.
Starting with high school, the portion of 14-17-year-olds enrolled in school grew from 63% in 1990 to 93% in 2015, with a steeper climb for girls than for boys. There was growth for the Jewish population also, but since the portion studying was far higher to begin with, the increase was much smaller – from 91% to 97%.
Within the high-school system, the share of students in technological-vocational education tracks (VET) has risen. As of 2017, more than 45% of students in the Arab education system were enrolled in VET studies, compared to 37% of students in the Hebrew education system. (The Israeli education system is divided into Hebrew and Arab education based on the supervisory authority and language of instruction.)
It is interesting to note that the greatest increase was among those entering the high technology education track (e.g., computer programming); here, too, the share among those in Arab education is higher than among those in Hebrew education. This trend is likely to improve their chances to integrate into the future labor market; the high technology track gives its students high-level math skills, which are in demand in high tech employment.
Although these science and technology studies are more prevalent in Arab education than in Hebrew education, unfortunately, the scholastic level of their bagrut (matriculation) qualification is on average lower, and fewer of their students study math and English at the highest proficiency level (5-units of study).
In general, the lower level of English (and Hebrew, which is also studied as an additional language) proficiency in the Arab Israeli sector harms their ability to integrate into high wage employment. Improving their proficiency in these languages is central to narrowing labor market gaps.
The increase in the share of Arab Israeli girls studying in the technology track, and particularly in the high technology track, is noteworthy. In 2017, 21% of the girls in Bedouin education and 31% in Christian education studied in the technology track.
In addition, their share in the science-engineering track is high, including in studies not traditionally considered “female subjects” such as computer science, electronic systems, technology science, and the like. Among Druze girls, more than half of those with a bagrut in science study in tracks other than biology and chemistry (which are not considered high tech oriented).
The percentage of those with a bagrut qualification has increased substantially over the past 20 years, as has the portion of those with a qualification that fulfills the requirements for acceptance to higher education. The most substantial gain was among Arab Israeli girls – in 2017, their achievements were close to those of their Jewish peers.
Among Arab Israeli boys, the increase was smaller, relative to both Arab Israeli girls and to Jewish boys. The share of boys with a bagrut in the Bedouin sector remains particularly low – only 25% – and it rose by only about 5 percentage points between 1999 and 2013.
With the increase in the share of those in Arab education with a bagrut certificate, the share of those entering higher education has also increased. However, the rise was mostly among Arab Israeli women, while the increase among men was much smaller.
The most marked increase was among the Druze and Bedouin women, where the rates of those entering higher education rose by about 50% between 2008 and 2013 and, in all likelihood, this upward trend has continued.
In terms of study majors in higher education, it is interesting to note that about a third of Arab Israeli students, both men and women, study health-related fields, either in Israel or abroad. That said, the past decade has seen a shift, with men with high grades studying computers and engineering (rather than health professions) at rates similar to those of their Jewish peers.
Despite the fact that we see more Arab Israeli high school girls studying these subjects, we do not yet see women in higher education studying science at high rates. Their share in academic level computer and engineering studies is lower than that of Arab Israeli men or of Jewish women.
Until 2014, of the Arab Israeli women who studied science in high school (excluding biology and chemistry), 22% of Christian and Druze women and only 9% of Muslim women continue their studies in related fields in academia.
These developments in education have had a tremendous influence on the employment of Arab Israelis. There is a positive relationship between higher education and employment, with higher employment rates among those with an academic education.
Employment rates among Arab Israeli women are on the rise; between 2003 and 2014, the employment rate rose by about 11 percentage points, an increase of almost 50%, and in the final third of 2018, it reached almost 40% of the population – only 1% shy of the 2020 employment target for Arab Israeli women set in 2010 by the then Ministry of Labor, Trade and Employment.
The rise in the employment rate of Arab Israeli women is strongly correlated with the increase in their education levels; Arab Israeli women with degrees are far more likely to work than are those without such a degree. Nevertheless, their employment rates are still much lower than those of Jewish women in Israel.
In light of the strong correlation between education and employment for Arab Israeli women, encouraging them to major in fields with the potential for subsequent high wage employment, particularly in technology and engineering fields, could have significant spillover effects.
A rise in these women’s salaries could serve as a beacon to other women, which can ultimately lead to increased education and employment rates, to an improvement in their socioeconomic situation, and to a decline in their poverty rates. For the same reason, it is worthwhile considering expanding vocational training programs and assistance given to Arab Israeli women who choose not to go on to academic studies and who, nonetheless, are interested in working.
Finally, turning to Arab Israeli men, their employment rates are lower than are those of non-Haredi men and lower than the OECD average. In 2018, about 75% of this group were employed as opposed to almost 90% of non-Haredi Jewish men.
Their lower education levels impact their employment opportunities, and a large portion of them are employed as skilled workers in manufacturing, construction, and agriculture. While this portion is falling, it is still high – about 50% in 2017. These are low prestige jobs that pay poorly, and are also likely to be computerized in the not-so-distant future, making these workers susceptible to losing their livelihood.
In addition, these jobs have high burn-out rates and, as a result, employment rates among Arab Israeli men over 50 are low. Men employed as skilled workers tend to have low education levels, particularly for Arab Israelis; the portion of Arab Israeli men without a higher education in these jobs is 60% versus 34% among Jewish men. Improving the education level of Arab Israeli men could help give them access to improved employment opportunities.
In light of the strong correlation between education and employment, policies and programs that encourage the Arab Israeli population to gain higher education and to find their place in high wage employment have the potential to be very beneficial to the Arab Israeli population and to contribute greatly to the continuing growth of the entire economy.