From mobility to equality

The role of the education system in Israel

Protesters stand opposite police during a protest for the death of 18-year old Solomon Tekah of Ethiopian descent, after he was shot by police, in Tel Aviv, Israel July 2, 2019 (photo credit: CORINNA KERN/REUTERS)
Protesters stand opposite police during a protest for the death of 18-year old Solomon Tekah of Ethiopian descent, after he was shot by police, in Tel Aviv, Israel July 2, 2019
(photo credit: CORINNA KERN/REUTERS)
Over the past year, JDC Israel has been working diligently with its partners in government and in other sectors on the issue of social mobility. This is one of the central national challenges facing the State of Israel in the coming years, and therefore social mobility is among the areas of focus in JDC Israel’s strategic planning process.
Currently, on average, Israel’s social mobility data do not indicate a problem. In Israel, a Jewish Israeli child has a 22% chance to advance from the bottom quartile to the top quartile. This figure is considered to be very high, even in comparison to most Western countries, and Israel ranks alongside the Scandinavian countries, Canada and New Zealand.
However, from an analysis of the data, and with an eye toward the future, it appears that the social mobility track may be blocked to children and families from Israel’s geo-social periphery. For example, the chances of Israeli children from the Arab, Ethiopian-Israeli and ultra-Orthodox communities to rise from the bottom to the top quartile are significantly lower, standing at 10%, 11% and 6%, respectively.
In recent decades, opportunity gaps have grown wider between children who come from high and low socioeconomic backgrounds. This reality creates a dangerous social equation: The place of residence and socioeconomic situation determine the fate and chances of success of Israel’s children. Groundbreaking research by American economist Prof. Raj Chetty of Harvard University recently revealed to what a powerful degree living in hardship and environmental poverty affects this odious social equation. Thus, for example, Prof. Chetty’s research studied innovation rates as adults of children from different backgrounds and math scores. Research findings showed significant differences in the chances of registering a patent in the future based on parents’ income levels, exposure to innovation in the childhood environment, and third grade math scores.
The necessary condition for promoting social mobility in Israel’s geo-social periphery is reducing the inequality of opportunity between the various populations in society. Bear in mind that Israel ranks among the countries with the highest income gaps in the OECD, according to the Gini index (which measures wealth distribution). One of the ways to initiate change in the current reality is to invest in the public education system. 
IN RECENT years, Israel’s Education Ministry has implemented a differential budgeting policy and support has been increased for schools in the geo-social periphery. But what next?
Professional development of educators and investment in the human capital at educational institutions, from birth to academia, should be promoted. Adults who are mentors and role models will influence the children’s future, and therefore educators have a significance that goes beyond their official role.
Curriculum should be built that is based on the principles of equity and on innovative pedagogy and that is relevant to the ways in which learning and teaching are taking place in the 21st century. What is needed is a curriculum that views diversity, transparency and personalization as threshold conditions for the Israeli student’s success; a curriculum that believes in promoting and fostering a student’s skills, values and talents for a changing world, as the basis for his or her optimal participation and flourishing in society – in both the periphery and in the center of the country.
In order to “move the needle” for Israel’s children and their families, the education system in Israel must prepare itself for this significant challenge. Yet, the challenge is not exclusively that of the educational system. Each and every one of us in the public arena bears a responsibility for working to end the correlation between the socioeconomic and environmental (geographic) variables, and a child’s success.
As we approach the beginning of the new school year we must stop for a moment, look at what is happening around us, and act vigorously in order to reduce the level of inequality in Israeli society. Addressing this challenge most certainly will contribute to the individual’s quality of life and to realization of the economy’s growth and productivity, strengthen social cohesion and improve the efficiency of public expenditures. No less important, however, is that it will maintain the education system’s relevancy so that our children will be provided with tools and opportunities for participating and developing in tomorrow’s world – instead of knowledge and skills that assured success in yesterday’s.
The writer is CEO of JDC-Ashalim.