‘Growing numbers lack tools to compete in modern economy’

Report asserts that the country must launch efforts to improve the school system for the sake of its future economic viability.

November 18, 2011 00:01
3 minute read.
A SHUVU classroom

SHUVU 521. (photo credit: courtesy of SHUVU)

Declining education standards have led to a serious drop in Israeli employment rates and labor productivity in recent decades, a problem that only stands to worsen if immediate changes are not implemented, according to a policy paper released this week.

Compiled by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, “The State of Israel’s Education and Its Implications: A Visual Roadmap” asserts that there is a clear link between education and employment levels in Israel, and that the country must launch efforts to improve the school system for the sake of its future economic viability.

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According to the report “until the mid-1970s, labor productivity in Israel – the primary engine of economic growth – increased rapidly, converging with productivity in the G7 countries. Since then, despite Israel’s cutting edge leadership in many fields, productivity in Israel has been falling farther and farther behind in relative terms compared to leading Western countries.”

According to Taub Center executive director Prof. Dan Ben-David, “a large and growing share of the population does not have either the tools or the conditions to compete in a modern, open and competitive economy. This weight on society’s shoulders pulls employment and productivity rates in Israel downward.”

The study’s findings relate that the average monthly income for 40-44-year-old Israelis with 11 years or less of schooling was NIS 5,339, compared to an average of NIS 7,036 for those who completed 12 years, and NIS 14,235 a month for those who hold academic degrees.

Furthermore, the study asserts that as of 2009 there was an 80 percent income differential between those who finished 12 years of education and those that did not.

The study places the academic achievement levels of Israeli primary school below every relevant First World country for more than a decade (with the exception of 2003). In response, Ben-David said “children who have difficulty contending today with basic educational material will have difficulty contending economically in the future labor market.”

The problem stands to worsen according to the Taub Center, due to the fact that the percentage of schoolchildren studying in state secular schools has remained constant since 2000, while the percentage in state-run religious schools has grown by 11%. During the same period of time, the number of pupils in Arab-Israeli schools grew by 37% and the number of haredi pupils grew by 57%, according to the study’s figures.

“In light of the deficient educational toolbox that the haredi and Arab- Israeli children receive in the basic subjects – each group, for different reasons – and the fact that today they comprise almost half of all the children in Israel, and in light of the very rapid increase in the share of these two groups in the total number of pupils, a substantial improvement is required immediately in the education that is provided to these children who will become the future majority in Israel.”

Since 1970, the percentage of men at all education levels who were employed has fallen from 90% to less than 60% for men with less than eight years of schooling. Only men with 16 years or more of schooling have seen their employment rates remain the same during this time period.

Ben-David summarizes: “The future is sitting in today’s classrooms. Using an analogy from the area of water management, the country has long since moved below the education red line and is today situated even below the forbidden black line.

“Since the ’90s, at least, about half of Israel’s children receive an education that is beneath the level given in the First World. The other half receive an education that is low even by Third World standards – and this other half will become a majority in the coming years.”

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