Israeli education system lagging behind rest of the world

Education expert: Immediate need to invest in weaker segments of society.

June 3, 2015 20:30
3 minute read.
Science Day

Dr. Assaf Marom teaches kindergarten students about acids and alkaline substances at a Science Day event. (photo credit: SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND SPACE MINISTRY)


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Israel’s education system lags behind those of other countries in expenditure per student, class size in primary education, and achievements in international science and mathematics tests such as the Program for International Student Assessment tests, according to a soon-to-be published report from the Bank of Israel.

The “Recent Economic Developments (139)” report also shows a connection between the quality of education and economic growth.

Such tests indicate that Israel is behind the OECD median, which translates into a loss of 0.4 to 0.6 percentage point from the long-term annual-growth rate, and of about one-fifth to one-quarter from the overall long-term productivity level, according to the report.

Furthermore, while the quality ranking of Israeli universities are about average for an advanced country, the rate of high school graduates with a matriculation certificate enabling them to pursue a higher education is preventing the improvement of high - er education, according to the report.

An improvement of 10 percentage points in the quality of education could, according to the report, increase long- term per capita GDP by 2 percentage points, to 3.5%.

The report points out that many factors affect the country’s expected growth in the coming decades and that it is important to understand them since they are correlated with the well-being of citizens, and are important to planning both short- and long-term fiscal policy.

Nachum Blass, an expert in education and senior researcher at the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, stressed that the link between education and economic growth is very difficult to measure, due to the time gap between when a person is part of the education system and when he or she becomes a productive member of the economy.

“The links between the education system and economic system are far more complex than throwing out these kinds of numbers,” he said.

A good education definitely lays the groundwork for growth development, but many external factors have a large impact, as well, Blass added.

Furthermore, he said the correlation between strong education systems and economic growth also can be explained the other way around, saying the stronger the economy, the more countries invest in their education systems.

Blass pointed out that international comparisons cannot possibly assess an education system as a whole, but rather compare specific metrics, such as PISA scores, which measure mathematic knowledge at a specific grade-level.

In both internal and external metrics, such as the PISA scores, Israel is on a path of improvement, he said.

Where does the education system need to improve the most? One of the international metrics that matters most, according to Blass, is the gap in the education system between socioeconomic groups, of which Israel’s has one of the world’s worst.

“We must invest more in the students from weaker socioeconomic backgrounds,” he said, adding that even small improvements in this area will drastically change Israel’s international standing since its population is so small that every change makes a difference.

Blass advocated expanding the affirmative action policies for weaker segments of society put in place by former education minister Shai Piron.

“First, larger sums of money are needed. Second, it must include not only classroom hours but the whole basket of services for students.

And, third, it needs to not only be for elementary and middle schools, but also for preschools and high schools. This is the first and most immediate thing that needs to be done.”

Perhaps most important, Blass emphatically stated the “need to invest in education, period, regardless of the future of the economy,” because the education system is not only an economic tool, “it is a social tool, it is an ideological tool.”

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