Israeli students’ poor performance in a recent international exam shows the
“colossal failure” of the country in its efforts to prepare its students for the
future, Dan Ben-David, executive director of the Taub Center for Social Policy
Research in Israel, said on Wednesday.
“This is a colossal failure that
is all man-made. It wasn’t like this once upon a time, and there’s no
justification for a country that’s cleaning up in Nobel Prizes and has some of
the best universities in the world to be in this situation,” Ben-David
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According to the results released on Tuesday, Israel placed in the
bottom half of the international Program for International Student Assessment
(PISA) exams for 2009, placing 36th out of 64 countries in the reading section
of the exam.
The results were worse in the sciences and mathematics
section, where Israel was ranked 41. All of Israel’s scores were significantly
lower than the OECD average.
PISA evaluates 15-year-old students from
around the world and is held every three years. The test is conducted by the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, of which Israel is a
The reading section of the test focuses on reading comprehension,
as opposed to spelling or vocabulary.
In the last test, held in 2006
Israel placed 40th out of 57 countries in both reading and
The test was conducted in Israel in March 2009, and involved
5,761 students. Altogether, 470,000 students in 64 countries took part in the
Israeli students earned a score of 474 for reading, below the OECD
average of 493, but 35 points higher than Israel scored in 2006. Israel thus
climbed four slots, to 36 out of 64 states.
On the mathematics portion,
Israeli students earned a score of 447, five points higher than the last test.
The average OECD score was 496.
In science, Israeli students received an
average score of 455, 46 below the OECD average.
Ben-David said the
results bode poorly for Israel’s future.
“The implications are
These children who aren’t able to compete with children from
OECD countries in school – how will they compete in the marketplace with them?”
Ben-David said there was no reason Israeli schoolchildren could
not lead the pack of OECD students.
“It’s not even if we should be among
the leaders, we should be leading the pack, because we are in other things. Our
universities are better, our hitech industry is better and we’re raking in Nobel
Prizes,” he said. “Over the past 10 years that our kids have been in last place,
the previous generation has been doing well.”
Ben-David said Israel’s
school system is failing in three main areas: what schools teach, the quality of
teachers, and the way the system does not reward achievement or punish
Ben-David said the figures of the test are even more worrying
because they don’t take into account the haredi school system. He added that the
figures are keeping with a number of studies carried out by the Taub Center in
recent years that have shown Israeli students at the bottom of the 25 leading
countries in the OECD.
If the situation does not improve, Israel will not
be able to compete internationally and socioeconomic gaps will only widen, Ben
Following the release of the figures, Education Minister
Gideon Sa’ar (Likud) said Tuesday, “Israel has made a serious leap in its
achievements and had the third-highest improvement of any country.”
added, however, that he wasn’t content with the results and said that his goal
is “to raise these achievements. I am certain that in the next tests we will
In the 2009 PISA, Shanghai- China scored at the top of the
list, in its first year participating in the test. It was followed by Korea,
Finland, Hong Kong- China, and Singapore in the top five.
Asian country of Kyrgyzstan came in last, scoring 50 points lower on the reading
test than the secondto- last country, Azerbaijan.
According to the OECD,
the PISA, which tested students in 33 OECD countries and 41 partner countries
and economies, “focuses on young peoples’ ability to use their knowledge and
skills to meet real-life challenges. This orientation reflects a change in the
goals and objectives of curricula themselves, which are increasingly concerned
with what students can do with what they learn at school and not merely with
whether they have mastered specific curricular content.”
performing OECD member country was Korea, with 539 points and the lowest was
Mexico with an average score of 425. According to the OECD, the 114 point
difference between the two countries is the equivalent of more than two school
The difference between firstplace China and last-place Kyrgyzstan,
242 points, is even more severe, representing some six years of formal
Girls outperformed boys in reading assessment in every
participating country. In the OECD countries, they scored an average of 39
points higher, the equivalent of one year of schooling. In Israel, girls’
performance in reading assessment has improved by 35 points since 2000, while
for boys it has increased by 9 points.
In the 2009 results, Israel found
itself among the countries where the socioeconomic level of a student’s family
makes a large difference in their performance. The test found that in Israel,
the differences in performance for students from average socioeconomic
backgrounds and those from advanced backgrounds is, on average, equivalent to
more than a year’s worth of education.
On Wednesday, the Knesset
Education Committee voted to delay a plan to reduce the number of students in
classrooms in the first and second grades, and a move to add 10 extra schooling
The government had asked for the delay, citing budgetary reasons.