Despite being a country with one of the highest number of years of schooling per person, Israel has some of the worst productivity and highest poverty rates in the developed world, according to a study released for publication on Wednesday.
The Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research study, conducted by its president, Prof. Dan Ben-David, aims to shed light on the state of education in Israel and its impact on society and the economy.
One of the most notable findings is that while the birth rate among ultra-Orthodox Jews remain much higher than that of Modern Orthodox Jews, which in turn is higher than that of secular Jews, the proportion of Israeli first-graders enrolled in ultra-Orthodox schools has not significantly increased since 2009.
Since 2009, the number of first-graders enrolled in ultra-Orthodox schools rose by 3.3%, while in state religious schools it increased by 3.2%, and in state secular schools it increased by 3.1%.
In contrast, between 2000 and 2009, enrollment in ultra-Orthodox schools increased by 4.2%, while in state religious schools it increased by 1.2% and in state secular schools by 0.3%.
This means, Ben-David explained, that many ultra-Orthodox parents have begun to enroll their children in non-Haredi schools that offer a core curriculum (i.e., English, math and science) so that their children will have better employment opportunities.
A similar pattern appears to also have been developing among Muslim Arabs, who have increasingly entered the middle class and desire better education for their children
According to the report, Israel has one of the most educated populations, as the country ranks third globally in terms of years of schooling per person.
Yet despite this, Israel also has one of the lowest rates of labor productivity in the developed world – and it has been falling further and further behind.
The reason, explained Ben-David, is Israel’s fixation on quantity over quality.
“Though Israel may seem to be one of the world’s most educated countries, the qualitative level of its education system is one of the worst in the developed world,” he stated.
The report found that while the correlation between years of schooling and economic growth is weak, there is a very strong link between education quality and growth.
This, he explained, is why while Israelis are highly educated, the country has one of the lowest productivity levels and highest poverty rates in the developed world.
Furthermore, the study found that the more educated a women is, the better her children’s school grades will be.
And so, the report states, societies that want to create more equal opportunity in the labor market and to improve socioeconomic mobility later in life, need school systems able to minimize the strong link between maternal education and children’s achievements.
The report cited data indicating that Israel’s education system has proven to be less capable of reducing this link than the 10 countries with the highest average achievement levels.
Additionally, the report stated that there is a very strong relationship between a worker’s level of education and hourly wages. As such, one’s choice of academic field and institution greatly affect subsequent wages.
In turn, the choice of occupation – which is strongly related to prior education – greatly affects subsequent wages.
The report found, for example, that Arab Israelis hold only 5% of the higher paying positions while filling 22% of lower paying jobs.
Part of the reason is that only Arab citizens who do not attend college or university, 33% of women, and 46% of men, have no more than a primary school education. The comparable figures for Jewish Israelis are in the single digits.
Despite the vast inequalities in the education system and their negative affect on Israel’s society and economy, Ben-David concluded the report on an optimistic note.
There is still hope and time to reverse the trend, as the entire population of Israel is no greater than that of a large school district in other countries, and as such, the country should be able to improve its education system to meet future socioeconomic needs, he wrote.
“The issue of fixing Israel’s education system is primarily one of removing blinders that confuse wishful thinking and fantasy with actual evidence – and finding the political wherewithal and leadership to implement the necessary changes,” he said.