“What are the most pressing issues…?” and more questions and answers about education in Israel
Author: Tamar Friedman Wilson

As the school year begins, we asked our principal education researcher Nachum Blass five questions about the state of Israel’s education system

נחוםAs the school year begins, we asked our principal education researcher Nachum Blass five questions about the state of Israel’s education system

What are the most pressing issues facing Israel’s education system this coming school year?

The most pressing issues facing the education system in the coming year are the narrowing of scholastic and educational gaps, raising the level of achievement in all areas of study, and improving the educational atmosphere in schools.
In particular, we should focus on increasing mutual tolerance for less widely accepted opinions and reducing the level of verbal and physical violence between students, as well as between students and teachers. Another critical issue is continuing the trend of improvement in recruiting excellent teachers to the education system and in training teachers.

As we enter the new year, what do you identify as the major factors contributing to inequalities within the education system?

The most influential factor contributing to inequality in the education system is the inequality prevailing in Israeli society at large, and the dominant ideology that views economic inequality as a positive thing that encourages individuals to work hard, and promises that those who work harder will achieve more. Within the education system, the most influential factors contributing to inequality are the various budgeting methods used at different stages of the education system and the budget allocated for affirmative action, the scope of which is insufficient to meet students’ needs.

At this time of year, the subject always comes up about how much parents need to spend privately on their children’s education – whether formally or for “extra” things. What are the trends, as you see them, in private spending on education?

Private spending on education has always existed and will continue to exist in the future. Parents who are financially capable of doing so want to give their children the best education possible so they can succeed in the future. The problem lies in the level of the basic education provided by the State.
The lower the level of this State-provided education, the greater the demand for high parental payments in order to provide services that the parents and school administration, and even the Ministry of Education, think the school should provide but cannot do so within their existing budgets (trips, parties, and more). It’s also worth noting that a large part of the increase in parental payments stems from the parents’ own demands, and it might be possible to reduce these increases if parents were satisfied with less expensive trips and parties.

Where does Israel currently stand in relation to other OECD countries on its students’ performance on international exams?

International exams indicate the abilities of Israeli students in the specific subject areas in which they are tested, at a specific age. It is difficult to learn about the education system as a whole from these scores, and even more difficult to infer anything from these achievements about the pace of Israel’s future economic development. Since the 1980’s, Israel has participated in various international research studies, and since 2000 the country has participated in the PISA (high school) exams.
Israeli students’ achievements on these exams have always been low and fall below the average of other participating countries. Equally troubling, if not even more concerning, is the fact that the gap between Israel’s weakest and strongest students is among the highest in all the countries that participate in the exams.

What education issues should we be paying attention to in the coming months?

I would highly recommend paying attention to what the Director General (of the Ministry of Education) is saying about freedom of expression in the classroom. In recent years, we have encountered the very disturbing phenomenon that teachers and principals are reluctant to discuss burning social problems in school out of fear of the response from parents and students, and perhaps even from the Ministry of Education.
Despite the fact that the Director General has encouraged teachers to raise sensitive and charged subjects in the classroom, teachers and administrators seem to understand this differently and exercise self-censorship. It is very important that the Ministry of Education make clear its position on the matter.