An integrative bilingual educational system from nursery to 6th grade
Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam runs an educational framework that today includes nursery level (depending on yearly demand), kindergarten, and primary school. The framework includes (in 2012) approximately 240 children, the majority of whom travel daily from more than twenty communities within a radius of 30 kilometers. The educational framework is bilingual and binational, with about the same number of Arab and Jewish children in the system.
Children in the framework are educated to meet the requirements of the national school system and to be confident and knowledgeable of their own identity, culture and traditions.
But what makes the school special is that they learn in an environment that is binational and bilingual. They learn to speak each other’s languages and become aware of each other’s religions and cultures. Whereas other children in Israel grow up in relative ignorance of the other people that share the same land, children in the WAS-NS educational framework learn to accept the inter-cultural exchange as something that is natural and desirable.
Since the school works according to an egalitarian and democratic model, the children also learn that it is possible for Arabs and Jews to work together and share authority. There is an atmosphere of openness and tolerance at the school that encourages the children to understand, accept and appreciate each other.
The educational system is governed by several key principles:
Equal participation by Jews and Palestinians in the administration and teaching.
Provision of a natural ongoing framework that enables the day-to-day meeting between children of the two peoples.
Use of both Hebrew and Arabic as media of instruction for all of the children.
Nurturing each child’s identity by imparting a knowledge of his/her culture and tradition while inculcating a knowledge and respect for the culture and tradition of the other people.
The idea of creating an educational framework that would express Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam’s ideals of coexistence and equality was born together with the community’s first children. The idea was translated into action from the late 1970s, when the village began to educate children at nursery and kindergarten levels.
In 1984, using recycled building materials, the village was able to construct a small building for a primary school. Initially, the school served only the dozen children of primary school in the village. When the teachers became more confident of their binational and bilingual teaching methods, the school opened its doors also to children from outside the village, and the enrollment and age-range began to grow.
State support and recognition has come slowly, but steadily. The Kindergarten received authorization in 1992, and then the school in 1993. In 1997, the Education Ministry assigned to the primary school the status of "experimental school," thereby recognizing its potential value in providing a model for emulation.
In the year 2000, the Education Ministry gave the status of the school to that of an official, extra-regional school. However, the school later asked to revert to the status of a recognized independent school and this is the current status of the school (2012).
A model for the future
Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam’s educational system was the first Jewish-Palestinian bilingual binational children’s educational program in the country. It was never intended simply as a solution for the Arab and Jewish children of the community, but as a model of integrated schooling that could be emulated in many other regions where an Arab and Jewish population live side by side.
As such, we have been encouraged that in recent years, other schools have been established that are based loosely on the Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam model. Wherever requested, the educational staff of the school are happy to offer their expertise in the area of binational education, both in Israel and abroad (see relevant articles below).