Arabic and English: The right decision for the wrong reasons

by Maskil on February 22, 2008

The Israeli Education Ministry’s January decision to drop Arabic from the compulsory core curriculum appears to me to be the right decision taken for the wrong reasons.

How should such decisions be taken? They should be taken by considering the best interests of the pupils to be educated, and of the country as a whole. As the decision was taken in the vain hope of getting the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) schools to adopt the official “compulsory core curriculum”, this patently hasn’t happened.

On the surface, the Education Ministry would appear to have the upper hand. After all, in terms of a High Court of Justice ruling secondary schools are barred from receiving government funds if they do not teach the compulsory core curriculum. Instead of adopting “a take it or leave it” (better yet, a FIFO attitude) towards the recalcitrant schools, the Education Ministry has bent over backwards to accommodate them (to the extent that Tamir asked the court two weeks ago to put off implementing its ruling for a year).

Leaving that issue aside for now, what would be in the best interests of the pupils to be educated, and of the country as a whole? In my mind, there is no question that English should become a compulsory subject throughout primary and secondary schooling. Arabic, on the other hand, should become optional.

Achieving this would probably require a change in the official status of English, with English becoming the third official language of Israel. This would merely formalise the de-facto situation, rather than being a fundamental change to language policy.

Why English?

Firstly, English is the language of most of the Diaspora communities; in very round numbers the other 50% of the worldwide Jewish population. At a time where Israel and the Diaspora appear to be drifting further and further apart, having Israeli youth at home with English can only help matters.

Secondly, English has already become the global lingua franca (lingua anglia?). Individuals, companies, societies and countries cannot compete in the global village without having a good grasp of English. I don’t think I need to spend more time making this case for English. Without it, Israel will simply fall behind in the race.

I pulled these quotes from a random entry in my search results:

English is the official language of aviation and maritime communication. It also is increasingly the language of international business, science and diplomacy. It’s one of the official languages of the European Union, the United Nations, NATO and the International Olympic Committee.

It’s estimated that more than a billion people in the world speak English, at least at a basic level, and some predict that the number will rise to 2 billion in the not so distant future. For that reason English is often referred to as a global language.

It should be pointed out, though, that these millions of people around the world who have learned English haven’t necessarily done so out of admiration for or a desire to communicate with Americans or other native English speakers. The primary reason is to communicate with each other.

For example, if a Korean businessman wants to conduct trade in the global marketplace with Japan, China, Australia and Italy, he doesn’t need to know the languages of all those nations. English serves as the common denominator for all.

What of Arabic?

It is the language of our neighbours, both within Israel itself and in the Middle East. Learning Arabic should be encouraged, especially for those considering careers in government and the diplomatic service, the police, military and intelligence, as well as fields such as tourism, teaching and academia. As Israel’s native Arabic-speaking population shrinks due to natural attrition, those who master Arabic will find themselves increasingly in demand, both in the current state of cold peace/low-intensity war, and hopefully in a future where full peace exists between Israel and its neighbours.

Links/Reading/Resources:

Education Ministry drops Arabic studies from core curriculum – Haaretz – Israel News

It’s worth it to study a foreign language (phillyBurbs.com) | Lou Sessinger

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