The number of new students at Israel's teacher training colleges increased by five percent this year, to around 5,200, following three years in which this figure held steady, according to unofficial data collected recently from all the country's teacher training colleges.

Moreover, for the first time in years, the proportion of these students attending private colleges has increased, to around 73 percent.

Some colleges recorded increases much higher than the national average: The Kibbutzim College of Education in Tel Aviv, for instance, registered a 13 percent rise in first-year students compared to last year, and Levinsky College registered a similar increase.

"Because of the unemployment and the economic situation, teaching looks like a safer option to many young people," one senior college official explained.

Nevertheless, warned Yossi Asaf, head of the Kibbutzim College of Education, a one-year increase in registration is not enough. "Without a dramatic and permanent improvement in the attractiveness of the teaching profession, teacher training will continue to lack appeal," he said.

Asaf added that it will not be possible to maintain a suitable public education system "without a dramatic improvement in teachers' salaries."

According to data obtained by Haaretz, the increase in the number of new students was paralleled by an improvement in their entrance exam marks: The number of students with a grade of over 600 increased to around 22 percent of the total, while the number of students with a grade of under 450 declined by half compared to the preceding year, to around 2.5 percent of the total. If the current trend continues, the Ministry of Education plans to increase the cutoff for acceptance to 550 points.

In total, around 24,000 students are studying to become teachers this year. These include the 5,200 first-year students, those who are further along in their studies, those taking professional retraining courses to become teachers and those studying in universities rather than teachers colleges. The Ministry of Education will soon publish official data on students in teacher training programs.