A lagging educational system, high poverty rates and large socioeconomic gaps plague Israeli society, according to a new study released by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel on Wednesday, following Independence Day.
The study, “A Picture of the Nation 2014,” was conducted by the Center’s executive director, Prof. Dan Ben-David, and is based primarily on Taub Center research, addressing Israel’s areas of excellence and issues for improvement.
The page booklet provides a “bird’s-eye perspective” of Israeli society and economy in several key areas: primary and secondary education, higher education, labor productivity, poverty and income inequality, the elderly, women in the labor market, haredi employment, and health.
In Education, the report found that while achievements in core curriculum subjects have improved over the past few years, the achievements of Israeli students are still at the bottom of the developed world, and educational gaps are consistently the highest.
According to the study, there are large gaps between the achievements of Hebrew-speakers and Arabic- speakers in the Meitzav exams – standardized tests in language, math and science skills – administered to elementary school students every four years to assess the performances of schools across the country.
In 2013, gaps in Meitzav eighth-grade test scores between Hebrew-speakers and Arabic-speakers were 13.8 percent in English, 9.4% in mathematics and 8.7% in science and technology.
Gaps among fifth graders were somewhat lower – 4.6% in English, 8.5% in mathematics and 6.8% in science and technology.
Furthermore, the report found that the achievements in basic educational subjects of Jewish pupils, excluding ultra-Orthodox children, were 4.8% higher than the overall average in Israel.
The achievements of Arab-Israeli students were 16.8% lower than the overall Israeli average, and also below the achievements of children in developing countries like Jordan, Tunisia and Malaysia.
As such, the findings indicated that Israelis ranked first among developed countries in terms of gaps between students on every international test since 1999.
The study also found that while the average public expenditure on primary and secondary education in the OECD is increasing, in Israel the expenditure in these areas has been in decline for the last decade, with public expenditure on higher education in Israel lagging further and further behind the OECD.
“While the demand by Israelis for higher education has substantially increased over the past several decades, the country’s national priorities have moved in other directions,” study author Ben-David said.
According to the study, since 1973, although the number of university students has risen 2.5-fold, not one additional research university was created, with the exception of Ariel.
Over the course of the past four decades the student population in research universities grew by 157%, while the number of senior faculty rose by just 9%.
The size of the academic faculty in Israel’s two flagship universities, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University, is smaller today than it was in the 1970s, as is the case at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
The study also showed that labor productivity in Israel, despite an increase in students receiving a higher education, is among the lowest in the developing world, following countries like Turkey, Chile, and Mexico.
With regards to poverty and income equality, Israel’s rates are among the highest in the developing world.
More than 50% of ultra-Orthodox and Arab Israeli households live below the poverty line in terms of their market income – before receiving welfare benefits and paying taxes.
Though, even after excluding these two groups, poverty rates in Israel still remain among the highest in the developed world.
The report found that one-fifth of the population claims that they have not had enough money to purchase food, while over one-third must live with little or no heating or cooling throughout the year.
With regards to medical care, onesixth must forgo medications and 40% do not receive necessary dental care.
According to the report, the need to do without basic needs, such as food and medical expenses, extends beyond the lowest income groups and into the middle class.
In terms of poverty rates among the elderly, the reports stated that despite the fact that “Israel is a relatively young country with a smaller share of elderly in the population, welfare benefits to Israel’s elderly are so low that while other developed countries nearly eliminate poverty among the elderly, Israel’s elderly poverty levels move to the top of the developed world.”
The Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel is an independent, nonpartisan institution for socioeconomic research based in Jerusalem.
The center provides decision makers, as well as the public in general, with perspectives on economic and social issues.
The center’s interdisciplinary Policy Programs – comprising of leading academic and policy-making experts – as well as the center’s professional staff conduct research and provide policy recommendations in the key socioeconomic issues confronting the country.