Psychologists, counselors, social workers, and truant officers play an important role in schools, and one that is complementary to that of classroom teachers. They identify and address problems that affect students' academic performance, help identify students needing special education, provide services that keep some disabled children in regular classrooms, and prevent students from dropping out. Despite higher rates, on average, of dropping out and lower academic performance among Palestinian Arabs, far fewer Arab schools than Jewish schools offer these services.Despite the increase in the number of positions available for support staff (truant officers, social workers, educational psychologists, speech therapists), support services in the Arab sector are still very inadequate, and are still not commensurate with the percentage of Arab children and youth in the population.
Fewer Arab schools than Jewish schools have counselors of any sort, and those schools that do offer some counseling provide fewer services. The shortage is an issue for both regular and special education Arab schools.
Source: CBS, Survey of Education and Welfare Services 1995/1996: Secondary Schools, Hebrew and Arab Education (Jerusalem: CBS, May 1999).
For example, 36.2 percent of Arab schools, compared with 78.7 percent of Jewish schools, offered educational counseling, and 40 percent of Arab schools, compared with 83.2 percent of Jewish schools, offered psychological counseling.
Part of the problem is in implementing stated policy. The 1997 State Comptroller's Report criticized the government for the large gap between the number of counseling hours to which Arab schools are legally entitled and the number that they actually receive. According to the report, Arab schools received only 35 percent of the counseling hours to which they were entitled.45
"We ask the ministry for special counselors for special cases, but we just don't get them," a history teacher at an Arab primary school in the Triangle region told Human Rights Watch.46 The school's English teacher confirmed that the school had no counselors, although she said she could think of at least ten children who needed some form of psychological help. The parents would not agree to send them to private psychologists, she explained, because of the stigma and the cost.47
We visited an Arab primary school in a mixed city with 1,370 pupils that was supposed to have two psychologists or counselors, the vice-principal told us. However, neither one was working when we visited because one was on maternity leave and the other was on strike.48 Human Rights Watch also visited an Arab school for physically disabled children that had no psychologist or counselor when we were there. Usually a psychologist came one day a week, but she was on maternity leave.49 The special education teacher at a regular Arab school in the Triangle region told Human Rights Watch, "[f]or three years we have tried to get help from the ministry for a girl in the class who has many psychological problems, but we cannot get anything."50 The school had no counselors or psychologists.51
Those counselors who do work in Arab schools often have caseloads that are too large for them to provide adequate individualized care. Orna Cohen, an attorney for Adalah, wrote in March 2000 to the Education Ministry-appointed committee (called the "Margalit Committee") that was examining the implementation of the Special Education Law: "The number of psychologists and educational consultants allocated for Arab schools is much lower than for schools for the Jewish population. . . . The great shortage compels psychologists in the schools and local authorities that have slots for psychologists to spend most of their time in locating and diagnosing children and almost no time for treating them."52 Human Rights Watch interviewed a social worker in Nazareth who told us that she went to a different Arab school every day and was responsible for four schools and five kindergartens. "I don't have enough time," she said.53 A Palestinian Arab psychologist employed by a local municipality to work at several schools told us that his case load was double that of Jewish psychologists who work in schools.54 When we interviewed him, he was working at a school where he had one day and a half a week for one hundred children with various mental disabilities. The principal of an Arab primary school in Haifa told us that there was one psychologist responsible for all Arab schools in Haifa and Ibtin. In the past month, he said, the psychologist had come once. "When we need him, we call him. But we need someone full-time for this school," he explained.55
Despite drop-out rates among Palestinian Arab students that are triple those of Jewish students, there are fewer truant officers in Arab schools than in Jewish schools. Truant officers play an important role in reducing drop-out rates in Israel, according to the Israeli government's report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2001: "Truant officers play a key role in addressing the problem of irregular attendance. . . . Their job is to reduce dropping out by identifying and reporting visible and hidden dropping out, by returning students who have dropped out to school, and by involving educational and therapeutic agents in preventing students from dropping out."56 Despite this recognition, the government provides proportionately fewer truant officers for Palestinian Arab students.
In 1994-1996, 53.7 percent of Arab schools, compared with 65.1 percent of Jewish schools, had a truant officer, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. In contrast, the State Comptroller reported in 1997 that truant officers were available in only 29.8 percent of Arab schools.57
Sources: CBS, Survey of Education and Welfare Services 1994/1995: Primary and Intermediate Schools, Hebrew and Arab Education (Jerusalem: CBS, October 1997); and CBS, Survey of Education and Welfare Services 1995/1996: Secondary Schools, Hebrew and Arab Education (Jerusalem: CBS, May 1999).
Again, part of the problem is implementation of policy, as agreed staffing levels are simply not met. According to a 2001 report by the State Comptroller, "while funds sufficient for the employment of 346 such officials in the Arab sector should be available, during the year 2000 Education Ministry funding for just 53 posts reached the schools, via local councils. Established standards in Rahat [a recognized Negev Bedouin town] call for at least 14 truancy officer positions, but money has been allocated for just one such official."58 When we asked the principal of an Arab primary school in the Triangle region if the school had a truant officer, he replied that a truant officer came "once in a blue moon." However, he noted, dropping out was more a problem at the high school level than at his school.59
Bedouin schools, in particular, lack social services. The principal of a secondary school in a recognized Negev Bedouin town told Human Rights Watch that the school had no counselors for over 700 students, although there was a regular psychologist in the town. "We get forms from the ministry for counselors and evaluations," he said. "I have to fill them out myself."60 Another primary school that we visited in an unrecognized area in the Negev had 1,330 students and no counselor.61
A 1993-1994 survey of seventeen of the thirty-seven Bedouin schools that existed at the time in the Negev found that only five were visited by psychologists, four by a truant officer, two by social workers, and that only four had school guidance counselors. None were regularly visited by a doctor or nurse.62 According to the Katz Committee:
45 State Comptroller, Report, 1997, p. 317.there is a lack of Bedouin school counselors, which contributes to the large gap in this area between the Bedouin and Jewish sector. At the elementary school level, there are 69 counselors in the Jewish schools of the Southern District, and none in the Bedouin schools. At the intermediate school level, there are 48 counselors in the Jewish schools and 3 in the Bedouin schools.63
52 Orna Cohen, attorney for Adalah, letter to Professor Malka Margalit, Chairperson, Public Commission to Examine Implementation of the Special Education Law, March 22, 2000, on file at Human Rights Watch, paras. 18, 20. Tel Aviv University professor Malka Margalit headed the committee, which reported its findings to the Ministry of Education in July 2000.