Students in a classroom [Illustrative].
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Widening gaps in income and education are among the most difficult issues facing Israeli society today, experts at the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel have found.
The independent, Jerusalem-based institution for socioeconomic research is releasing a report Thursday morning mapping out the challenges facing the country in the fields of macroeconomics, the labor market, education, social services and healthcare. The report also suggests practical policy measures to improve the problematic areas.
While stating that some of the welfare policy changes made over a decade ago may have been necessary at the time, the report claims they led to a substantial rise in income inequality – in part because they threw unskilled workers into the labor market with insufficient preparation.
With this in mind, one of the proposals in the publication is to institute core studies in the haredi school
system immediately as a condition for state funding. At present, 10 percent of the country’s working-age population is ultra-Orthodox, and according to Central Bureau of Statistics forecasts, this will increase to one-quarter of the working-age population within four or five decades.
According to the Taub Center report, if this trend continues without core education, it will lead to an “unprecedented economic regression and seriously hamper the government’s ability to fund and provide public services at their current level – including the continued prioritization of the military that is essential to the country’s very survival.”
Hand-in-hand with implementing a core curriculum, according to the report, is a proposal to sever the links among employment, yeshiva study and military service. At present, yeshiva students are not allowed to work if they want to receive exemptions from army duty – something that makes it difficult for ultra-Orthodox men to enter the labor market. Changing that policy would make it easier for them to join the workforce, the report argues.
On a broader educational level, the report also relates the need to close the gaps in the education system – something it says should be a main priority of the 20th Knesset.
The gap between the country’s highest- and lowest-achieving students is the fifth-largest gap among the 60 countries that participate in the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment.
While the Taub Center research shows that most academic-achievement inequality stems from economic inequality among families, it says there are policy tools available to the Education Ministry that can help close the gap.
The report recommends improving the quality of instruction throughout the system, particularly in institutions that serve disadvantaged populations; taking into account objective and uniform measures of need that ensure every pupil receives the tools to succeed; and advancing socioeconomic integration within schools.
It further recommends limiting the policy of having separate academic and technical-vocational tracks at the high school level, since the technical-vocational students’ chances of matriculating and proceeding to institutions of higher learning are often lower. According to the report, more pupils from lower socioeconomic groups study in the technical-vocational tracks than do pupils from higher socioeconomic groups – which means students from poorer backgrounds are much less likely to get matriculation certificates.
Finally, the report recommends using remedial instruction, tutoring, and learning-disability assessment to reduce educational inequality outside of the school setting, as well as reducing class sizes and working toward improving the level of discipline in schools.
Moving on to the labor market, the report talks about the importance of encouraging three specific population groups to enter the workforce: ultra-Orthodox men, Arab women, and people with low levels of education. While the report states that creating a more equal education system would help solve the problem, it also points to short-term solutions such as vocational training and work placement programs.
The Taub Center findings also deal with employee protection in the labor market: In the public sector, strong labor unions restrict employers’ ability to adapt to changing market conditions, while private sector employers enjoy high levels of flexibility at the expense of employee security.
“The solution lies somewhere in between the two extreme models,” the report states, pointing to some northern European countries with “flexicurity.”
Another suggestion the report offers is exempting low-wage workers from the obligation of pension accounts, since these long-term goals are often outweighed by the workers’ short-term need for the money.
On the issue of the labor market, the report talks about making the retirement age more flexible and raising women’s to be the same as men’s.
As for healthcare, the Taub Center recommends continuing development of the mental health system and increasing its budget, shortening waiting times for medical procedures in the public healthcare system, reducing out-of-pocket expenditures on medical treatment, and increasing the system’s manpower supply.
Among the other recommendations in the report are raising the level of income supplements for the needy elderly to bring their incomes to the poverty line; enacting a social-services law as a framework for ensuring citizens’ right to social services; establishing citizens’ rights centers that would arm needy families with the necessary knowledge to take advantage of the services and allowances to which they are entitled; and taxing rental property income to improve the