Investment in education

A CLASSROOM (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last Tuesday, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released a new report on its members’ expenditure on education. It showed that while the share of Israel’s GDP going towards education might be high, the investment per student places Israel at the rock bottom of the list of developed countries.
According to the annual “Education at a Glance” 2019 report, Israel spends the equivalent of 6% of its GDP on primary to tertiary (post-secondary) education but spends less on education per student (NIS 31,379) than most other OECD countries, which spend an average of NIS 37,064 per student.
Spending per student on tertiary education – including universities and colleges – stands at NIS 39,362, significantly below the OECD average of NIS 54,902.
The Jerusalem Post’s Eytan Halon explained why these stats are concerning. As of Israel’s 71st Independence Day in May, the country’s population now stands at 9.02 million, an increase of 177,000 – approximately 2% – since the previous year. What this means is that due to high fertility rates, Israel’s population is growing at more than three times the pace of the average OECD country, growth which stood at just 0.6% in 2018.
In 2015, Halon wrote, there were 2.4 million Israeli children aged 0-14, and by 2040 there are predicted to be 3.7m. children. By 2065, the number is expected to rise to 5.5 million.
To put it simply, there will be a lot of children for future governments to educate and if Israel doesn’t start increasing the amount it invests in each child’s education, it will start to fall even further behind the rest of the developed world.
Additionally, the latest PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) test from 2016 showed that Israeli students continue to lag behind the rest of the OECD when it comes to literacy, mathematics and science.
This means that Israel has its work cut out for it and that education needs to be one of the first issues that the next government tackles when taking office. Comments like the one made recently by Education Minister Rafi Peretz that Israel is on track to establishing “prophecy schools” instead of universities, shows how unsuited he is for the position.
Israel does not need schools that teach prophecy. It needs schools that instill values in their students and educate children to be independent thinkers so they can be innovate, creative, smart and competitive on a global market.
It is possible to improve, but it will require long-term strategic thinking and planning.
When Naftali Bennett entered the Education Ministry in 2015, he set out to increase the number of high school students finishing five-unit mathematics matriculation exams, an important gateway for continued education in computer science, programming and engineering. A hi-tech entrepreneur, Bennett correctly understood that prophecy won’t keep Israel’s economy growing, but engineers will, a vital resource needed for the local tech sector.
As Bennett pointed out at the pre-election conference that the Post hosted in Herzliya last week, more than 18,000 grade 12 students studied for the five-unit examinations, almost double the 9,100 students taking the same examination in 2013. Five year ago in cities in the periphery, no kids were taking the five-unit exam. Today, more than 15% are.
How was this done? By identifying a problem and galvanizing the entire ministry and its resources to fix it. This same methodology needs to be applied to other parts of the education system.
The government doesn’t need to just throw money into the ministry, but it needs to reform it. When principals can’t fire bad teachers due to their membership in unions and when schools are over-crowded and in many cases dilapidated, it is almost impossible to enact reforms or to teach in an innovative way.
To catch up with the OECD, Israel needs to invest significant resources but will, more importantly, need to plan better for the future. To understand that, Rabbi Peretz, you don’t need to be a prophet.