Israel spends more on education than Western countries

Study also finds teachers' salaries, country's test scores continue to remain among lowest.

school 88 (photo credit: )
school 88
(photo credit: )
While Israel invests more in education than other Westernized nations, teachers' salaries, along with the country's test scores in reading, math and science, continue to remain among the lowest, according to a new report. The report was released by the Macro Center for Political Economics, a nongovernmental research institute that specializes in economic and sociological analysis in Israel. The report was based partially on information provided by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an international body of westernized nations Israel hopes to join. It essentially reaffirmed what the OECD's annual survey of its countries' education systems said about Israel last September - that Israeli teachers earn significantly less than the global average wage, class sizes in Israel are among the largest in the world, and that Israeli students continue to sink in areas such as reading, math and science, when compared to OECD nations. The Macro report also asserts that Israel is investing more of its GDP in education than other OECD countries - 8 percent compared to the OECD's average 5.8 percent. But the ultimate destination of those funds remains unclear. "That's exactly what we don't know," said Macro's director-general, Dr. Roby Nathanson. "We don't have a straightforward answer to that question. And while I don't have anything in my data that points to foul play, I do believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is an enormous amount of waste going on here." Nathanson also lamented the Education Ministry's focus on reform programs such as the current Ofek Hadash (New Horizon) program, while much larger issues - budgetary reform and transparency among them - are not addressed. "All of these reform packages are fine and well," Dr. Nathanson said. "But if the Education Ministry doesn't take a good look at where its money is going, it won't make much difference. "They need to know more about what they're doing in terms of allocating their funding, and I know from very reliable sources, that the decision makers don't have a clue about allocation." Another fact the Macro report brings to light is that Israel is ranked third last when it comes to both new and veteran teacher's salaries compared to OECD countries. On average, Israel pays new teachers an annual salary of $25,131 compared to the OECD's average of $45,666. According to the Macro report, only Turkey and Hungary pay their teachers less than Israel does. Furthermore, according to OECD statistics from 2005, Israel's veteran teachers - those who have been on staff for at least 15 years - earn 88 percent less than their counterparts in other OECD countries. The Macro report notes that while since then, under New Horizon, both new and veteran teachers' salaries have increased nearly two-fold, New Horizon is in place at only 814 of the country's 4,000 schools, and covers only 20 percent of the country's teaching force. Others were less alarmed at the report, noting that Israel has a relatively high amount of school-age children, which can help explain the seemingly higher-than-average investment in education. "Israel is a relatively young country population-wise," said Prof. Dan Ben-David, executive Director of the Taub Center and a professor of economics at Tel Aviv University. "If you take into account the number of children per capita and then compare it with the GDP per capita, we spend roughly the same amount as other OECD countries. "However, the question remains: even if we're spending the same amount as they are, our education system is in much worse shape, so still, we have to ask where the money is being spent." Ben-David gave a few possibilities for the disparity, namely educational projects like teachers' colleges that don't necessarily bear fruit. "We have colleges to train our teachers that don't even have the same requirements as our universities - so we also have to ask ourselves if these projects are worth the money we're spending on them, because they're producing teachers that don't necessarily possess the right tools to teach," he said. "We also apparently have too many teachers," Ben David continued. "If we spend what we spend and there's still not enough for everyone, then this seems to be the case. But no matter where the money is going, these things need to be re-assessed." Dr. Nathanson agreed. "The government needs to reexamine it's budgetary allocations in order to fix the country's education system. "But the problems won't be fixed solely from a financial standpoint," he continued. "We need qualitative answers as well, if we're truly going to fix the system."