Israel’s education system is a ‘ticking time bomb’

About 50% of Israeli children in the country’s fastest growing sectors receive a third world education that will not be able to support a first world economy, without which there will be no health systems, social protection and defense of the first world, according to a new report published by the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research.

“The lack of a First World’s ability to defend itself in the world’s most violent region will jeopardize the very existence of the State of Israel,” said Professor Dan Ben-David, author of the report. 2021. The Jerusalem post. “It’s an existential threat. “

Israel has had one of the highest fertility rates in the world for some time. The most recent report shows that Israeli families have an average of 3.1 children – a minimum of one whole child more than any other OECD country.

Families in Mexico and Turkey have on average 2.1 children. The rest of the countries on the list average between one and 1.9.

Students and parents demonstrate in front of Tzfat municipality after their school has closed, allegedly due to security breaches. August 25, 2021 (credit: DAVID COHEN / FLASH 90)

However, these children are born mainly in certain sectors: Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Arab Israeli students each make up more than a fifth of Israel’s first graders today, or around 43% in total.

Most Haredi students don’t even study the core curriculum. The average score of Israeli Arabs in basic subjects is much lower than in the developed world as a whole.

The education provided to students in the social and geographic peripheries of Israel is also often inadequate.

This represents about 50% of students, and it “turns the national education picture into a time bomb,” Ben-David said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed fundamental problems in the education system, bringing to the fore challenges that have existed for years, despite continued investments.

The education ministry’s budget is even bigger than the defense ministry’s, but the students just don’t get the grade.

The average level of knowledge of Israeli children in math, science and reading is lower than that of all developed countries, according to the Shoresh report. The educational gaps in primary education in Israel are also much higher. And the country has more students who do not reach the minimum level of knowledge set by the OECD – even without considering most of the ultra-Orthodox children, who do not study subjects and therefore do not participate in international exams. .

Israel’s non-religious Jewish schools rank below one-third of developed countries, considering the most recent average scores in 25 OECD countries and Israel on the International Program for Student Achievement Tracking (PISA), which assesses what students know in reading, math and science and what they can do with that knowledge.

The country’s religious schools fall below 80% of those countries. Arab Israelis are falling all the way down, including under nine of the ten Muslim countries that took part in the last PISA exam.

While Israel cannot be compared to the United States in terms of population size, the United States, like Israel, can be divided into four main ethnic groups. In the United States, PISA scores show Asians and Whites receive a better education than all students in all developed countries, scoring an average of 549 on the exam.

Non-religious students in Israel average 509. Religious students in Israel average 485.

However, American Hispanics only get 470, while African Americans almost have the lowest score – 436. But there is one group that scores lower: Arab Israelis score an average of 372.

Additionally, Israel has the highest percentage (33%) of students of any OECD country scoring at or below ‘level 1’ in math, science and reading on the PISA exam. , where one is the lowest score and six is ​​the highest.

“If education is a stepping stone to market, with these knowledge gaps, you can’t expect equality for future generations,” said Ben-David.

Israelis return to school amid coronavirus concerns, September 1, 2020 (Credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI / MAARIV)Israelis return to school amid coronavirus concerns, September 1, 2020 (Credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI / MAARIV)

Why is this happening then?

THE EDUCATION system likes to accuse the country’s large classrooms of being the reason children struggle to learn. But according to the Shoresh report, while this may be a contributing factor, not all Israeli classrooms are large, and there is no explanation as to why efforts were not made to reduce class sizes given the sheer number of classrooms. teachers Israel employs per student – higher than average.

The number of students per teacher in Israeli elementary schools is almost identical to the OECD averages, according to the report, and middle and high schools have fewer children per teacher than the OECD average.

In addition, the number of hours of instruction in Israel exceeds that of most OECD countries.

As such, Ben-David pointed out a different challenge: the quality of Israeli teachers.

He said that the knowledge levels of Israeli undergraduate education students are very low, both compared to other Israeli college and university students and compared to others in the developed world.

Some 79% of Israelis study to become teachers at one of the country’s educational institutions, 17% study at general educational institutions and 4% are students at mainstream universities. The average psychometric score for those who study in educational colleges is almost 25% lower than the average for Israeli university students, the score is almost a third (32%) lower for those who are accepted to general colleges , and still 9% lower even for those learning to teach at university level.

The situation becomes even more acute when one examines the ranking of Israeli teachers in the OECD Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), which examines the basic knowledge and skills of adults aged between 16 to 64 years old. The skills of Israeli literature teachers are close to the lowest in the developed world, and the knowledge of Israel’s mathematics teachers is lowest among developed countries.

Ben-David stressed that this situation is not due to the fact that teachers in Israel are underpaid. He said that “contrary to conventional Israeli wisdom, the salaries of teachers in the country are higher than the national average salary and are also higher than the average salaries of teachers in developed countries.”

Specifically, Israeli elementary school teachers earn 3% more than the average received by their OECD counterparts, middle school teachers 16% more and secondary teachers 23% more when looking at what. teachers earn per teaching hour.

“Israel considers the brain to be its main natural resource. Its high-tech sector – almost the only economic sector that thrives on the world stage – does not have the number of workers with a university education it needs. How can teachers who have not even been accepted into universities themselves educate children to a level that could get them there? Ben-David asked. “How can we expect our children to reach college and become part of modern society if their teachers are not at that level?” “

As Israel returns to school on September 1, rethinking its classroom models to protect children from the coronavirus, Ben-David said it was just as urgent to reinvent the way Israel chooses, trains and pays its staff. educative.

“The system is not working well,” he said. “We need an overhaul of the whole system.”

While the sky is unlikely to fall this year or next, Ben-David told the Post that if Israel does not act quickly, there will be “a point of no return.”

He pointed to the situation in Beirut which was brought about in large part by demographics – a less fertile and more educated elite sector of society has been overthrown over time by a more fertile and less educated poor population.

“It’s hard for young people today to imagine that Beirut was once called the Paris of the Middle East,” said Ben-David. “Today it is a state of poverty on the verge of explosion … Countries are failing.”

To ensure Israel is as successful in 2065 as it is today, Ben-David said that when it comes to education, “Israel needs to pull itself together while we still can.”

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