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Israeli High School students

The quality of Israel’s education has improved over past two decades, and yet Israel is near the bottom of the developed world, its 8th graders get correct answers on only half their math questions, Israel’s weakest students are also the weakest in the developed world, and Israel’s top students rank only in the bottom third of the developed world. These dire occlusions are the highlights of a new publication titled “Shoresh Handbook 2017,” by Prof. Dan Ben-David, which focuses on Israeli education and its socioeconomic impact on the Jewish State.

The Shoresh Institution, an independent, non-partisan policy research center, released an education report card containing excerpts from its Handbook, which includes one graph per page with a brief accompanying analysis.

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According to the scathing report, Israel’s education powers-that-be exclude 23% of school children from international exams – other countries keep away only about 5% – so that even its weak results are biased upwards.

Israel’s weakest pupils are the weakest in the developed world / Photo credit: Shoresh Institution
Israel’s weakest pupils are the weakest in the developed world / Photo credit: Shoresh Institution

The report also points to a looming democratic threat, suggesting a strong positive link between the share of students who do not possess the minimum level of education necessary for working in a modern economy and the share of students unable to fully comprehend the actual source of their problems, enhancing the possibility for success of populist solutions offered by some politicians.

Here is another worrisome point made by the report about the familiar problem of crowded classrooms in Israel. The prevailing wisdom, the report argues, is that crowded classrooms have very negative effects on the quality of learning. While reducing class sizes from 25 to 18 may not always produce significantly better outcomes, it is likely that a reduction from 40 children in a class (the maximum allowable in Israel) to 20 could substantially improve the learning environment.

Educational inequality within Israel is the highest in the developed world / Photo credit: Shoresh Institution
Educational inequality within Israel is the highest in the developed world / Photo credit: Shoresh Institution

A very large number of classes in Israeli schools reach the 40 students limit, considerably more crowded than the OECD average. But the number of teachers already on Israel’s payroll is sufficient to substantially reduce class sizes. In fact, the number of students per full-time equivalent teacher in Israel’s primary schools is nearly identical to the OECD average while the number of students per teacher in the country’s secondary schools is even lower than the OECD average.

In short, the report concludes, there is no lack of teachers in Israel. The problem of overcrowded classroom is related to how Israel’s teachers are utilized.

Israeli children have more school days – by far – than in all other developed countries / Photo credit: Shoresh Institution
Israeli children have more school days – by far – than in all other developed countries / Photo credit: Shoresh Institution

More school days, less school knowledge: the number of school days in Israel cannot explain the poor level of knowledge in core subjects. There are many more days of instruction in Israeli school years than provided by any other developed country. In contrast with the common five-day school week elsewhere, the Israeli school week lasts six days, from Sunday through Friday. Yet Israeli students’ scholastic achievements are much lower than these fewer school days countries.

Monthly salaries of Israeli teachers are low – but because they work so many fewer hours, their hourly salaries are much higher than OECD average. In fact, primary school teachers in Israel work almost a quarter fewer hours per year than the OECD average, and Israeli high school teachers work roughly half the average number of hours in the OECD.

Public expenditure on primary education is roughly the OECD average while public expenditure on secondary education is relatively low. Specifically, public expenditure on private secondary education (Haredi schools account for a large part of these) is highest in OECD while public expenditure on public secondary education is lowest in OECD.

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