The Israeli Education System: An Overview
Author: Nachum Blass
December 23, 2018
The main developments in the education system in the last years have taken place over four dimensions of the system: the composition of the student population, the Ministry of Education budget, the profile of the teaching personnel, and students’ educational achievements.
Composition of the student population
The student population in Israel is growing, but the growth has not been consistent over time, across age levels, or across population subgroups.
- Israel’s student population has increased by about 44% since 2000 (an increase of 2% per year), which is exceptional compared to other developed countries.
- While the growth rate is declining in the Haredi, Arab, Bedouin, and Druze education systems, it is rising in Hebrew State and State-religious education.
The number of children in preschool increased between 2000 and 2015 by 81% (compared to a 43% growth in the total population). The fastest growth rate was between 2010 and 2015 and coincided with the implementation of the free Compulsory Education Law for ages 3-4.
An examination of the Ministry of Education’s budget shows an increase in the share of the budget allocated for Special Education and an increase in per-student expenditure.
- The Ministry of Education budget increased by 83% in real terms between 2005 and 2018. The budget increased due to a rise in the number of students, the signing of the Ofek Chadash and Oz LeTmura labor agreements, the implementation of the Compulsory Education Law for ages 3-4, and the introduction of resource-heavy programs such as reducing the number of children per class.
- The budget for Special Education increased at almost twice the rate of the overall education budget, mainly due to the tremendous rise (127%) in the number of students in Special Education.
- The growth in the number of Special Education students was particularly fast among students diagnosed with autism – their number rose from 894 in 2000 to 11,145 in 2018 – and students with serious behavioral disorders – their number rose from 2,347 to 17,483 over the same period.
- The Ministry of Education’s real budget per student increased between 2000 and 2014 at a higher rate than in the OECD. In 2015, the expenditure per student in primary education in Israel was $7,981 (PPP dollars) compared to $8,631 in the OECD. The corresponding figures in high school education were $7,987 in Israel compared to $10,010 in the OECD. Given recent developments, it is reasonable to believe that differences in the rate of change of expenditure per student between Israel and the OECD will continue to grow.
As a whole, the feminization of the teaching profession has come to a halt (except in Arab education) and there has been a real improvement in the academic level of teaching personnel.
- Feminization: In primary school, the share of women working in Hebrew education dropped from 90% of teaching personnel in 2000 to 86% in 2017, while, in Arab education, the share of women rose from 65% to 78%. Similarly, in high school, the feminization process stalled in Hebrew education (87% of teachers were women in 2010 compared to 86% in 2018), and grew stronger in Arab education (increase from 36% in 2000 to 57% in 2018).
- Academic level: In primary school, the share of teachers in Hebrew education with an academic degree rose from 50% in 2000 to 89% in 2018, while, in Arab education, their share rose from 37% to 94% (surpassing the share in Hebrew education). In high school in both streams the process of academization of the teaching faculty is nearly complete (having reached 92%).
- Teacher supply: In Israel, it is expected that when there is a teacher surplus there will be a drop in the teacher hours worked. In primary school, the average teaching job in Hebrew education rose from a 73%-time position in 2000 to 77% in 2018. In Arab education, despite oft-heard claims of a surplus of teachers in the Arab sector, average job positions increased slightly from an 82%-time position to 84%. These trends indicate that there is not a surplus of teachers at the primary school level. On the other hand, in high school there was a drop in the average job position in Hebrew education from 78%-time in 2010 to 70% in 2018 and a drop in Arab education from 95%-time to 85%.
There are large gaps between Israeli students on the Meitzav exams and, on international exams, these gaps are among the largest of the participating countries, especially among the developed countries. At the same time, Israel has been improving educational achievements and reducing achievement gaps on national and international exams in recent decades.
- There has been a significant improvement in Meitzav exam scores in Israel, with an impressive rise of half a standard deviation throughout all the tests (5th grade math and English; 8th grade math, English and Science).
- Israel’s improvement on international exams has been larger than the average improvement in all countries, and larger than the average improvement of the countries that participated in the first and last tests examined in the study. In fact, Israel was one of the top three countries in terms of improving test scores for the PIRLS and TIMSS tests evaluated in the study and ranked first in reducing gaps on the PIRLS test and the PISA test in math and sciences.
- In comparison to the average scores of the countries that participated in all of the international tests in the study period, Israel’s average score was nearly always lower than the average, but the gap between the two narrowed substantially.
Progress in Israel’s education system has been significant in recent decades, but, given the important role the education system plays in creating a strong and thriving society, we need to understand and address the gaps that still exist.