Israel’s lethal brew of deficient
education and demography
is said that Nero fiddled while Rome burned.
In many respects, the fire that may one day devour Israel has already
been ignited while the emperors that have been leading the country for years
repeatedly cobble together governing coalitions grounded in shameless political
expediency that is increasingly mortgaging our collective future. Exceptionally proficient public relations
wizards deftly divert public attention to the inane, ensuring that the
discourse endlessly skates on superficial surfaces without ever considering how
thin our ice is becoming.
the concept of national security is the only real determinant of Israeli
elections, few delve into the depth of what this actually entails. Ensuring that Israel has the ability to
defend itself in one of the planet’s most dangerous and volatile regions
requires first world military capabilities.
Preserving a first world army is contingent on maintaining a first world
economy. But today, half of Israel’s
children are receiving a third world education – and they belong to the
country’s fastest growing population groups.
Such children will be able to maintain only a third world economy as
adults – with all the existential implications that this has on Israel’s
week, we received another reminder of just how deficient Israel’s education system
actually is – and how completely out of touch the country’s leaders really are
– with publication of the new PISA exam results. This exam is given every three years. It tests the knowledge of 15 year-olds in 81
countries in the core curriculum subjects, math, science and reading.
pupils have done very poorly on this exam for years. Instead of dealing head on with the root
problems, recent governments have preferred to shower the system with money –
increasing education expenditures (net of inflation) per pupil in primary and
secondary schools by 17% between 2009 and 2018.
For the first time in Israel’s history, the country’s education budget
exceeds it defense budget, making it the highest of all government
yet, the Start-Up Nation’s average score in the three core subjects places the
country below every single one of the 25 relevant developed countries. At the same time, achievement gaps between
Israel’s children soar far above every one of the other 25 developed countries. A full third of Israeli children score below
the minimum proficiency level set by the OECD.
That is a higher failure rate than in each of the other 25 developed
countries, which together had an average failure rate of just 20%.
children, who constitute 25% of all Israeli pupils, score below many third
world countries. In fact, their
achievement levels – which have actually managed to fall since the last exam in
2015 – are below the averages in 9 of the 10 predominantly Muslim countries
participating in the exam.
of the Haredi children, who constitute 19% of Israel’s pupils, don’t even study
a full core curriculum (Israel is the only developed country that enables
parents to deprive their children of their basic right to a core curriculum)
and even what fraction of the core they do study terminates entirely for the
boys after eighth grade. Consequently,
most Haredi children don’t participate in the exams and cannot be blamed for
Israel’s low scores. Had they
participated, Israel’s abysmal showing would have been even further below all
of the other developed countries.
addition to the Arab-Israeli and Haredi children, who together account for
nearly half of Israel’s children, the country has a large geographic and social
“periphery” comprising non-Haredi Jewish children who are also receiving a
third world education. These three
groups of children belong to the fastest growing population segments in Israel. They will eventually constitute a majority of
the adults – and they will lack the ability to maintain the first world economy
that Israel must have to physically survive.
today, half of Israel’s adults are so poor that they don’t even reach the
bottom rung of the income tax ladder and pay no income taxes at all. Ninety-two percent of Israel’s entire income
tax revenue comes from just 20% of the population. These are the more educated and skilled
Israelis – of whom an increasing share is already deciding to emigrate from the
country. In 2014, 2.8 Israelis with academic
degrees left for each such Israeli who returned. By 2018, this ratio increased to 4.1.
most haredi children of a full core curriculum later manifests itself in
dropout rates of over half the Haredi women and over three-quarters of the Haredi
men who are unable to complete an academic degree. Consequently, while 25% of American haredim –
who are required by US law to study core curriculum subjects – have an academic
degree, only 12% of Israeli haredim have one.
There are no shortcuts in life.
Very few people can skip a good education as children and eventually
become physicians, engineers, and all of the other professions that a first
world economy must have. With the
Central Bureau of Statistics forecasting that half of all the country’s
children will be haredim in just two generations, is there anyone left in
Israel who does not comprehend the country’s lethal brew of deficient education
is an urgent need for a massive, comprehensive education reform encompassing a
vastly upgraded core curriculum that is mandatory for all children – with no
more exceptions for the haredim. This
needs to be accompanied by a serious change in how the country chooses its
teachers, trains them and compensates them alongside a complete overhaul of the
budgetary black hole that is the Education Ministry – a mammoth bureaucracy
that epitomizes inefficiency, redundancies and major conflicts of interest.
has a long history of finally getting its act together when its back is to the wall. The issue of education is more insidious, and
therefore can no longer be put off. When
its effects become fully apparent, there are no redo buttons that can make
adults children and provide them with the education that they’ll need later in
such, Israel is in urgent need of serious policy-makers who understand the
gravity of the situation, who have the ability to explain and convince the
majority how the national good often runs counter to politically strong
sectoral interests, and who are willing to put the good of the country before