High Court Orders Translation of Matriculation Exam into Arabic

Judges in Israel’s High Court of Justice reprimanded the Education Ministry a couple of weeks ago for failing to provide Arab students with a full translation of a state matriculation exam in geography. The justices were responding to an appeal filed earlier that week by a high school geography teacher from Bir al-Maksur, an Arab village in the Galilee, in the days leading up to the administering of the geography exam for 11th graders. The justices ordered the ministry to ensure that all parts of the computerized exam for the 5-unit geography matriculation exam (the most difficult level) are translated into Arabic.

Arab teachers and the Educational Caucus of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab citizens of Israel discovered that names of locations on the maps used for the exam and the text accompanying them had not been translated into Arabic. Attorney Tal Hassin of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said dozens of important pieces of information had not been translated, adding that the same problem has occurred repeatedly for more than a decade.

The ministry said in response to the complaints that students could take a printed version of the exam over the computerized one. However, the ministry had completely computerized the course, and forcing students to switch to a printed format just before the exam would have made it more difficult for them.

The appellants wrote in the petition they submitted to the High Court: “The use of Hebrew-language maps in an exam for Arab students prejudices their chances of success. The same would be the case for having them take a printed exam for which they have not been prepared… Our students are being tested not only in geography but in Hebrew reading comprehension.”

The ministry had asked the court to reject the petition, saying it had received no complaints about the format in the 15 years since the computerized version of the exam has been administered. However, the court rejected the ministry’s contention and ordered that the entire computerized exam be translated to Arabic.