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Haaretz | March 30, 2008

Despite rise in numbers, Arab college grads struggle for jobs

His mother left school when she was 10. His father dropped out in the eighth grade. Now, 29-year-old Arafat Shalata from Sakhnin has had more years of schooling than his parents combined. In this respect, Shalata with a master's degree in a branch of statistics (quality studies) from the University of Haifa is typical of the academic revolution among Israeli Arabs. The official data supports the impression that for them academic studies have become a necessity, though once an unaffordable luxury. The education level in the Arab sector has risen considerably. But don't try to get a job.

In the 1960s, only 50 percent of adult Arab Israelis had more than one year of schooling. By 2005, half of them had more than 11 years of education. The Jewish sector has also seen an impressive, albeit less drastic, increase in education.

In the 1960s, half of all Jewish adults had less than eight years of schooling. By 2005, more than 50 percent of adult Jews had more that 12 years of education.

But the formidable leap in education is still awaiting another statistic to catch up - employment of Arab college graduates. Many, including Shalata, are having difficulty finding work in their field. The number of unemployed Arab college graduates is significantly higher in the Arab sector, than the number of unemployed Jewish college graduates in the Jewish sector.

The level of education among the Arab public is 20 years behind the rest of Israel, and is roughly on the same level as Jews enjoyed in the 1980s.

The large gaps in education between Arabs and Jews began showing clearly in 1948, when most Arab college graduates left as refugees. The Arabs who stayed mostly worked in agriculture and belonged to the rural population.

Sixty years later, the academic revolution seems to have permeated to broad sections of Israel's Arab population. Young Arabs now live in an environment stressing the importance of education. In many homes, degrees are proudly displayed in the living room.

"That which I had been deprived of"

When Shalata's 50-year-old mother left the fifth grade, she did so to take on more duties in her parents' household. "I am giving my children that which I had been deprived of," she says.

Shalata's younger sister is also in school, studying for a bachelor's degree at Safed Academic College. A third sibling works in construction.

Shalata's case is typical of young college graduates his age. After graduating from high school, he got a job in construction for a year, saving up for university. He enrolled in a degree program in statistics that has relatively easy entrance requirements. He did not find a job after graduation so signed up for a master's degree. His grade average increased each academic year. His master's degree, which he completed in 2005, had a high average of 88 out of 100.

Today, Arafat Shalita makes a living by working as a tutor at three academic institutions, putting in four hours a week at each. Yet he earns less than NIS 4,000, and any given month faces dismissal for lack of demand. During the summer he joins his father and cousins and works in construction.

Shalata has tried for years to get a job as a statistician without success. But he keeps sending out his CV and applying for government jobs. He is building a home in Sakhnin and plans to marry in a year and a half but says he will move to Jerusalem if offered a government job there.

Shalata says he has no regrets about his decision to study. He would do it all over again, he says, but maybe in a different field. "Getting an education is about culture. An educated person knows how to cope with life's problems. He or she can face conflicts and resolve them successfully."

As a statistician, Shalata says, he knows the average retirement age for construction workers is 40 to 45. "And then what would I do?" he asks.

Unemployed college graduates like Shalata, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, make up 12.5 percent of all Arab college graduates. The figure on the Jewish side in only 3.5 percent. Women fare slightly better. In many cases, Arab graduates are forced to seek jobs as school teachers rather than work in their professional fields.

The desperate need to find a job caught the attention of entrepreneurs who established head-hunter agencies. One of the largest is the Shfaram-based Arabjob. "At first we were making real progress because there was a huge demand," says founder Amir Hasson, noting he recruited 1,400 college graduates on his list of job seekers.

But in 2007 Arabjob succeeded in finding work for only 20 people. He says his candidates had trouble passing evaluation tests. It could be due, he says, to the belief among many Arab job seekers that Jewish bosses won't hire them.

Posted on 31-03-2008

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