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Israel's educational system ranks among the worst in the developed world in several key areas, according to a new study entitled "Education at a Glance 2006" published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The report, which examined the educational systems of OECD member and partner states in the period from 1995 to 2004, seeks to determine the effect that investment in education has on the economic and social well-being of a country. Investment in human capital, according to OECD Director for Education Barbara Ischinger, "contributes tangibly to social outcomes, including health and social cohesion." The report also notes that, in today's massively connected and complex world, education is a key factor in successful employment.
Among the report's most damning findings: in the developed world, Israeli teachers earn the fourth-lowest salary; Israel's classrooms are among the most crowded; and the average number of school years attended by an Israeli schoolchild is among the lowest.
Of 32 countries included in the OECD figures on years of schooling, Israel came in 25th, at 15.9 years from kindergarten through university. While countries such as Ireland, Denmark and Norway all provide over 20 years of schooling, even poorer states like Portugal, Poland, Spain and Greece come in ahead of Israel in the OECD report.
Israel came in at 28th out of 31 countries in salaries paid to teachers with over 15 years' experience in the profession. The report found that the average Israeli teacher, after over a decade and a half of teaching, earns around $18,000 per year. This pales in comparison to the Australian average of $45,000, Spain's $41,000, France's $33,000, and even Mexico's $21,000. Of the countries examined by the study, only Hungary, Chile and Poland pay their teachers less.
The report also noted that the average Israeli teacher earns 25% less than the average income among all Israeli workers. A Korean teacher, in contrast, earns double the average salary.
While the average high school class in developed countries consists of approximately 24 students, there are 32 in each Israeli high school class, making Israel's high schools the fourth-most crowded among OECD states. Only Korea with 37, Japan with 35 and Brazil with 33 come after Israel on the list of 29 OECD countries and partner countries examined by the study. For comparison, the United States places approximately 25 students in each class, Hungary 22, and Iceland 18.
Israeli elementary school classrooms are no better. With 28 pupils in a class, they constitute the third-most crowded among developed countries.
Despite the relatively high number of high school graduates (93%, more than 10% above OECD average), the gap between high school graduation and the percentage of the population continuing to higher education institutions is the second-highest in the developed world. Just 58% of Israelis go on to university or college studies, leaving a gap of some 35%. Only Ireland, with a gap of approximately 48%, came ahead of Israel in the ranking.
The report also demonstrates - though perhaps inadvertently - the lack of Israeli government policy to deal with the abysmal condition of the country's educational system. Israel ranks 18th in the OECD report in terms of expenditure on educational institutions per student. Whereas the OECD nations' average spending comes to some $7,500 per year, Israel spends slightly less than $6,500 annually.
On a more positive note, Israel ranks fifth in the developed world in terms of cumulative hours of instruction per student between the ages of seven and 14, with about 7,800 hours. The Netherlands is at first place with approximately 8,050 hours, while Finland ranks 28th and last with a mere 5,500.
While these figures are relatively good, the figure does not determine the quality of education attained during these hours. As the study notes, "using time in an optimal manner, from the perspective of the learner and of public investment, [is a] major challenge for education policy."