Students and teachers kicked off the academic year on Thursday at schools throughout the country.
“This is the morning of a celebration. The academic year began today as planned,” Education Minister Naftali Bennett said on Thursday morning.
Nearly 2.3 million children went back to school, accompanied by some 180,000 educators.
“The education system today is more personal and professional than ever,” Bennett said. “The education system today focuses on academic excellence and values.”
Michal Cohen, director-general of the Education Ministry, wished luck to both the nearly 160,000 first-graders at the start of their path and to the some 120,000 12th-graders embarking on their last year of secondary studies.
She thanked the educators for “working around the clock” to ensure that the school year opened as scheduled.
In her remarks, Cohen outlined the ministry’s four strategic goals for 5777: promoting meaningful learning that will lead to academic achievements, self-fulfillment and academic excellence; strengthening Jewish and Zionist values; minimizing gaps and promoting equal opportunities; and strengthening the system’s organizational- administrative culture.
The education system faces a number of major challenges: overcrowding, socioeconomic and sectorial gaps, and low student performance.
Members of the Knesset Education, Sports and Culture Committee took the first day of school as an opportunity to highlight some of these challenges, first and foremost the massive educational gaps between different sectors and socioeconomic groups.
Committee chairman Ya’acov Margi (Shas) and committee member Merav Ben-Ari (Kulanu) together with MKs Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid) and Osama Sa’adi (Joint List) opened the academic year touring schools in Abu Ghosh.
“There is great importance in investing in education for the Arab sector in order to minimize societal gaps,” Margi said.
“The committee will continue to accompany the [Arab] sector and promote its students in educational fields – both in formal and informal education,” he said.
According to a report released in June by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in collaboration with the Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel, among all the developed countries, has some of the widest educational gaps, especially between the Jewish and Arab sectors.
The report, also known as the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, surveyed basic adult skills among people aged 16-65 in literacy, numeracy and problem-solving in technology- rich environments in 34 countries.
Among the developed countries, Israelis ranked toward the bottom in all three skills.
Upon closer examination, however, the findings revealed that Jewish adults’ scores are only minimally lower (4 points) than the average OECD score in literacy and are similar in numeracy and in problem- solving using computer skills.
When comparing scores between Jewish and Arab adults, however, there were significant gaps: In literacy Jewish adults scored 264 on average, while Arab adults scored an average of 225 – a 39-point gap; in numeracy there was a 50-point gap, with Jewish adults scoring an average of 262 in comparison to 212 among Arab adults; and in problem-solving using a computer, there was a 42-point gap in scores, at 280 among Jewish adults and 238 among Arab adults.
The gaps between the Arab and Jewish population are even more evident when examining computer skills, as 34 percent of Arab adults lacked basic computer skills, compared to only 9% of Jewish adults, compared to the OECD average of 15%.
These same results are echoed in the Program for International Student Assessment test, which has been administered to more than 70 countries every three years since 2000, and aims to assess education systems around the world by measuring 15- and 16-year-old students’ skills in literacy, math and science, in order to examine their readiness to enter adulthood.
According to the findings from the 2012 PISA exam, the latest year for which data are available, there are significant gaps in achievements among Israeli students from different socioeconomic backgrounds, more specifically between Arabic- speaking students and their Hebrew-speaking counterparts.
On the computerized part of the test, a gap of 92 points in favor of Hebrew speakers was recorded.
In addition, 67% of the Arabic- speaking pupils were “weak students,” compared to 31% in the Jewish sector, and almost no “excellent students” were found among Arabic-speakers.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post’s Friday Magazine
, Bennett addressed the divide within the education system and said minimizing the educational gaps – both for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and for the Arab and ultra-Orthodox sectors – is one of the main goals of his ministry for this school year.