“TThis is There are two myths about education in Israel,” said Haim Shaked, director of the Israel Teachers College Forum. “One is that Jews care a lot about education. This may have been true when we were exiled and needed to preserve our Jewishness. In Israel, this is no longer the case. The second myth is that because Israel is so successful in tech, with so many start-ups, it means that education in Israel is excellent. What we have is an island of excellence surrounded by failed systems. ”
A report in October backed up his gloomy forecast. The number of trainee teachers is down 38% from the previous year as classroom morale plummets. The government raised teachers’ salaries and made it easier for teachers to get into teachers’ colleges. But the number of teachers keeps falling. The profession lacks prestige. Today’s bright young Israelis are more keen to enter tech companies.
In fact, more than 10% of the Israeli workforce is employed in the tech industry, perhaps the highest percentage in the world, but one doubts this will continue given the low scores of Israeli children on international tests. “We have had serious complaints about the level of school graduates from business, academia and even the military,” said Dalit Stauber, director general of the education ministry. Israel’s education system faces “strategic crisis”.
In the PISA (pizza), the designed test OECD Rankings for Israeli 15-year-olds have been steadily declining, mainly for students from developed countries. As of 2018, it ranks 29th out of 37 countries assessed, and falls even lower in maths (32nd) and science (33rd).
Economist Dan Ben-David of the Shoresh Institute in Tel Aviv examined the results and found more reasons for concern. If the test were applied only to Israel’s secular schools, the country would be among the top ten developed countries. But its state-run religious schools lag far behind, and those serving Israel’s Arabic-speaking minority have fared worse (see chart). “Even the numbers are misleading,” he commented. “They do not include Jewish ultra-Orthodox schools, which do not teach the state curriculum and are not tested pizza.“
“We keep seeing a widening gap among applicants,” said Yuval Elbashan, president of Ono College, Israel’s largest private academic institution with a large Arab and ultra-Orthodox student body. “We’ve had to put a lot of resources into getting new students up to standard.”
In 2020, one in five children started primary education in the ultra-Orthodox system. This will increase due to the high birth rate of ultra-Orthodox. Their party was part of a coalition that won Israel’s general election on Nov. 1, and new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised them government funding for their schools, despite ignoring the national curriculum and generally refusing to teach math and “Secular” subjects such as English are beyond elementary level – and only for boys under 12. Afterwards, students must take religion classes only.
Israel’s education woes are not due to lack of investment.National primary and secondary education funds account for more than 5% of the country gross domestic product, higher than any other rich country. But its separate network of state-funded schools for Jewish students of different denominations, as well as Muslim and Druze students, required a heavy and intrusive bureaucracy that hindered the development of teachers and principals. “Israel is not the only country with teacher shortages or huge social disparities,” said Adar Cohen of the Hebrew University School of Education. “But the way its public school system is divided into schools is unique — and a major source of its problems.”
This division means that courses, exams and teacher training are conducted separately. The level of aid per student in public schools, whether Jewish or Arab, is equal. But wealthier local authorities supplement the funding of local schools. Wealthy parents make up for what their kids don’t get in school. “Almost everyone goes to public school, but there is a completely hidden private tutoring industry, paid by parents who can afford it, that props up Israel’s economy,” said Yoav Pridan, principal of a high school in Tel Aviv, who spoke with host Manhigim ( “Leader”) Headteacher’s Organization.
“Education ministers and director-generals are constantly changing, and principals are unable to influence change in their own schools because we are subject to a politicized and centralized system,” said Mr Pridan. There have been seven education ministers in the past decade.
Ms Stauber, appointed by the outgoing government, has been seeking to overhaul teaching methods. She encouraged teachers to stay in the profession and gave principals more independence. She also offers extra funding to ultra-Orthodox schools if they agree to teach higher levels of maths, science and English. But she is leaving after just one year on the job. New ministers from Netanyahu’s Likud party are bound to try to set a different agenda. The outgoing team’s attempts at reform have sparked right-wing and religious criticism that they have abandoned traditional Bible studies.
A new deputy minister representing the religious right will seek to ensure ultra-Orthodox schools can continue to ignore secular subjects such as maths and science. At the same time, ultra-Orthodox Christians are expected to make up 25 percent of the population by 2050, up from around 12 percent today. Without serious educational reform, Israel risks becoming a country where people only know the book of numbers but not the numbers or the books. ■