Start-Up Nation's students lag behind in reading, math, and computer skills

The OECD report, also known as the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) was released Tuesday by the Central Bureau of Statistics in Israel.

College students (illustrative) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
College students (illustrative)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
The basic skills of Israelis in reading, math, and problem solving in a digital environment lag behind other developed countries, according to an international survey conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The report, also known as the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), was released Tuesday by the Central Bureau of Statistics in Israel.
It surveyed basic adult skills in 34 countries among people age 16-65, in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology- rich environments.
According to the findings, Israelis ranked among the bottom of the developed countries across all three subjects. The survey also found Israel has among the highest demographic gaps among all the developed countries, especially between the Jewish and Arab sectors.
In reading skills, Israel ranked 28 out of 34 countries with an average score of 255 compared with the OECD average of 268.
Similarly, Israel ranked 29 out of 34 countries in numeracy skills, scoring 251 points compared with the OECD average of 263.
For problem solving in technology- rich environments – which measures the capacity to access and interpret information found in digital environments – Israelis also scored below the OECD average with 274 points compared with 279, and ranked 24 out of 29 countries.
The data revealed that some 32.7 percent of adults do not have sufficient skills to solve problems in technology-rich environments, and failed to show basic computer skills. This share is larger than the 28.9% average across OECD countries.
The study found that there were large discrepancies in the scores of Jewish adults and Arab adults across all three subjects.
According to the report, Jewish adult scores are only minimally lower (4 points) than the average OECD scores in literacy and are similar in numeracy and problem solving using computer skills.
However there were significant gaps when comparing scores between Jewish and Arab adults: in literacy Jewish adults scored 264 on average while Arab adults scored an average of 225 – a 39 point gap. In numeracy there was a 50-point gap, with Jewish adults scoring an average of 262 in comparison with 212 among Arab adults. In problem solving using a computer there was a 42-point gap in scores, 280 among Jewish adults and 238 among Arab adults.
The gaps between the Arab and Jewish population are even more evident when examining computer skills, as 34% of Arab adults lacked basic computer skills, compared with only 9 percent of Jewish adults, less than the OECD average of 15%.
In contrast, however, the report found that Israel has a larger share of adults who show the highest level of digital problem solving skills, 6.4%, than on average in the OECD, 5.4%.
The report also noted that men scored 11.7 points higher than women in numeracy, similar to the OECD average difference of 12.2 points, but scored similarly in literacy and computer skills.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett responded to the survey results saying “the study only validates what we already knew – we are in the midst of a serious deterioration in the scientific and mathematical achievements of the children of Israel in relation to the world. We do not accept it. We will return to excellence.
We set a very high bar for Israeli children, and we will succeed. In a few years we will significantly climb in the achievements of the country. We should not remain behind.”
In the wake of the survey, Bennett announced on Tuesday that the Council for Higher Education was tripling the budget for a five-year plan to integrate Arab Israelis into the higher education system, from NIS 300 million to NIS 900 million.
He noted that over the course of the past five years, there was significant improvement in the number of Arab students integrating into higher academic institutions, from 26,532 students accounting for 9.3% of the student population to 40,639 students, or some 13.2% of the student population.
He said the five year goal of the CHE is to see over 50,000 Arab students enrolled in higher education, accounting for 16% over the overall student population by 2021.1.