The real test: how does Israel score on four goals for improving its education system?
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Israel’s last two Ministers of Education emphasized similar objectives. To what degree have these goals been realized?

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It’s that time of year again – summer weather, end-of-year exams, daydreaming about vacation…once again we’ve reached June and the end school is approaching. As the year winds down, where does Israel’s education system stand relative to the goals established for it?

Israel’s last two Ministers of Education, Shai Piron and Naftali Bennett, emphasized similar objectives for improving Israel’s education system:

1. To reduce gaps in budget allocations between different socioeconomic strata and population sectors;

2. To reduce the average number of students per class, particularly in primary schools in lower socioeconomic class areas;

3. To increase the percentage of students studying high-level math (five units);

4. To increase the number of students in technical-vocational education.

While there has been some degree of success in attaining these goals, they have not yet been fully achieved and each has a slightly different story.
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In Hebrew primary education, the increase in the number of teacher-hours per student was minor. Most of the increase was in schools in the lowest socioeconomic quintile, but even this was very minor.

In Arab Israeli education, schools in the three lowest quintiles saw an average increase of 3-5% in the allocation of per student teacher-hours. However, the number of hours per student in Arab education across all socioeconomic strata is still much lower than the number of teacher-hours per student in the Hebrew system.

For middle schools, the increase in hours per student was small, but more pronounced in Arab than in Hebrew education.

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The second goal set by the Ministry of Education — decreasing the number of students in primary school classes — has been attained to some extent since 2011, but not evenly in all education streams. Most of the decrease was in the Arab system, which started the period with larger classes.
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To attain this goal, math instruction hours and math teacher jobs were added to the Israeli education system, and the university bonus for students with five units of math was raised to 30 points. To overcome many students’ reluctance to study higher-level math, a “safety net” was created to ensure that those who take five units of math and do not pass the test will be considered as having taken the four-unit exam and be awarded an additional 20 points (so long as they receive a grade no lower than 35).

The 2016 bagrut exam results indicate that these measures achieved the hoped-for outcome. Between 2013 and 2016, the share of students eligible for bagrut with five units of math rose from 10.6% to 13.8% of all bagrut exam takers.
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Due to the changing nature of the labor market resulting from the increasing rate of mechanization and computerization, the Ministry of Education considers it more important than ever for those who do not choose to pursue higher education to have a profession they will be able to use in the future labor market. Such skills can be developed through vocational training.

Technical-vocational education developed differently in the Hebrew and Arab education systems. In the Hebrew sector, the percentage of high school students studying vocational education peaked above 50% during the 1990s, but, by 2010, it had declined to 33%. In the Arab education system, by contrast, technical-vocational education grew from 22% in 1990 to 40% in 2010. Since 2010, thanks to serious efforts by the Ministry of Education, the share has risen to 36% in the Jewish sector and to 43% in the Arab Israeli sector, for a total of 37.4% of high school students in 2015.

There has certainly been a certain degree of progress in each of these four areas. However, the main challenge continues to be that of more equally distributing education system resources between different population groups and socioeconomic strata. From this perspective, the changes that have occurred are moderate, and a great deal of work remains to be done.

Want to see the graphs themselves? Find them in the Picture of the Nation 2018.

 

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