Back to school

We need to encourage students more, especially girls and haredim. But most of all we need more teachers, more classrooms and smaller classrooms. For that, our education system needs a larger budget.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The school year is beginning. Some students have already started, others start tomorrow and Friday and the rest start on Sunday. We know what that means: politicians from across the spectrum will dash off to classrooms for the obligatory photo-op. They will sit and laugh with the kids, and push for their pictures to appear in the press so they can declare to the public that their party is the one that cares the most about educating our children.
But this really shouldn’t be about politics.
We don’t doubt that every party sincerely wants to improve the education of their youth – their very own children and the children of their community, with whatever community they identify. But the oft heard complaint against politicians is: What are they doing about it?
As the keepers of the country’s budget, it is the task of the 120 men and women who make up the Knesset to responsibly divide the annual economic pie for all of us and to set our national priorities. While the Israel’s education budget has grown in recent years, the country, according to OECD statistics, is still lagging behind in literacy, math and science – particularly among those who come from poor backgrounds.
There have been encouraging accomplishments that could be stemming the tide. For example, Education Minister Naftali Bennett launched a plan in 2015 to encourage more high school students to take five points on their mathematics matriculation exams, five points being the highest level of difficulty.
And it’s working. In June 2017, 16,085 students took the five-point exam. This year the number jumped to 18,050, across the country in places like Shlomi, Sderot, Beersheba and Eilat, among schools in the Arab, ultra-Orthodox and Beduin sectors.
Bennett said that in Ofakim, six times more students are studying five units in mathematics compared with three years ago.
In America, the byword is no longer the three R’s, but STEM – the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Bennett should be commended for recognizing the importance of getting our kids engaged early on in computers, math, science, engineering and electronics. Our industries need more workers in these fields in the face of an aging workforce and an increasingly innovative world market.
Bennett said in June that before the program began, there was an “imminent risk and danger that Israel would lose its leadership as the Start-Up Nation. Now I can say that we’ve saved Israel.”
We hope he is right. Such high-level math skills can help open doors for these students to become engineers, mathematicians, scientists and computer programmers. This is the engine of our economy that promotes innovation and technological development. STEM is the very fuel of the Start-Up Nation.
A glance at Israel’s education relative to other countries shows us where we are – and it’s not all doom and gloom.
The World Top 20 Education Poll provides annual international rankings of the world’s top 20 education systems out of 209 nations, using statistical data compiled from six international organizations.
Israel stands third in the world in secondary-school completion rate, fifth in early-childhood enrollment, and No. 1 in primary-school completion rates. In the final 2017 overall score, Israel finished tenth in the world – and is trending upward, predicted to finish 2018 at No. 6.
All this is good news, and a welcome sign that Israeli schoolchildren are learning more, and better.
But other statistics are not so impressive, showing us just how committed our politicians are – or aren’t – and how far Start-Up Nation still needs to go: in a ranking of cost-per-student investment, from primary to tertiary schools, Israel is not even in the top 20.
There’s something wrong with that statistic.
We need to encourage students more, especially girls and haredim. But most of all we need more teachers, more classrooms and smaller classrooms. For that, our education system needs a larger budget.
Israel is a country that undoubtedly faces a great deal of security and social challenges. But a strong education system is the basis for it all. Without education, our children will not be able to bridge social gaps; without education they will not understand why we are even in this land, fighting for our continued independence.