Israel should invest in closing socioeconomic gaps that begin early in life in this country. A recent State Comptroller report has revealed that these gaps begin in school. Although a budget was passed to help address this issue six years ago, Israel has failed to fully realize the goals of that budget.
Socioeconomic gaps have always existed in our society and others. But Israel was founded by Zionist pioneers who sought to create a more equitable and egalitarian state, one in which people’s future would not be decided by the circumstances of their birth but rather other factors that the state could help shape. This is essential in a country that historically had a large number of people who had come on aliyah, meaning that they were creating a new life and their children would need to be provided with the best access to education and success that the state could provide.
The 2012 budget wasn't handled well
In 2014 the country passed an equity budget that was supposed to provide support for those in weaker socio-economic sectors – meaning it was supposed to help students from poorer backgrounds or the periphery to catch up. Israel, despite appearing to be a highly equitable country, nevertheless has high gaps in education compared to other OECD countries. According to the State Comptroller report, the 2014 budget provided has not been handled as well as it could have been. This may be due to many factors, among them that Israel had numerous elections between 2019 and 2022.
The report, according to our examination at the Post, says that not enough was spent on narrowing the gaps in education and that this has particularly affected minority communities like the Arab sector; support for the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sector was also too low. There are other issues, as well. The Education Ministry has not set itself measurable goals to track developments in this area and there is lack of transparency, the report notes. While the funds are specifically meant for extra hours to aid weaker students, schools were found to be using some of the money to further the integration of special needs students into regular classrooms. The effort to narrow the gaps is not being fully implemented.
It is important to review whether these budgets are being spent effectively. There are now recommendations for how the Education Ministry can assess progress on the plan. The ministry should heed these recommendations and ensure that the allocated budgets go where they are supposed to and that we have more transparency to measure whether these gaps are truly being addressed.
Israel is a global leader in hi-tech and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence. All of this is underpinned by both an education system and army units and universities that provide the tools for the next generation.
It is important to understand that we cannot rest on our laurels. To create the next generation of entrepreneurs and prevent the start-up nation from stalling, we need to be investing in both the periphery and education. We need to make sure that the integration of haredi and Arab Israelis into hi-tech continues. We must address such issues such as overcrowding in classrooms and pay for teachers. Measuring ourselves against the OECD is only one way to examine how we are succeeding. Our country has unique characteristics that may not be the norm among the OECD, such as relatively high birth rates and national conscription.
We have many tools at our disposal to invest in narrowing socioeconomic gaps, but we also have unique challenges. The government has taken a forward-looking approach on many issues over the years, not only in terms of investment in educational gaps but also in integrating minorities such as Ethiopian Jews and being sure to focus on sectors in the periphery. We must not get distracted now, despite the current tensions over judicial reform and conflicts on our borders.
The next generation is relying on us to ensure that everyone has an equal shot at success and is given the right tools at a young age to succeed in areas that can facilitate the development of careers in hi-tech and entrepreneurship.