11th graders - Kafri - 1.5.12
Eleventh-graders at a Tel Aviv school taking an English test. Photo by Nir Kafri
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Israel risks losing its competitive advantage in the fields of science and technology unless it focuses more attention on the early stages of education for children, a recent study finds.

The study, conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics, finds ongoing deficiencies in the education system, resulting in the "failure to realize the excellence potential in the scientific-technological subjects."

Only 38 percent of junior-high students who excelled in scientific-technological subjects chose to write the extended matriculation exams in these subjects, the study says.

It also finds substantial gaps in the achievements of students from various population groups. For example, 8.4 percent of female students in the Arab community achieved high marks in their matriculation exams in science and technology, while 5.5 percent of female students in the Jewish community and 1.6 percent of the female students in the religious state education system had similar achievements.

The study was conducted by Education Ministry science and technology administration director Dr. Ofer Rimon, and the CBS' Dr. Dmitri Romanov.

They checked why the relative success of eighth grade students in the standardized Meitzav exams - a standardized test measuring Israeli students' achievements in fifth through ninth grades - was not reflected in later stages of education.

The study shows only 38 percent of the students who achieved marks of 85 and more in the Meitzav exams chose to write the extended matriculation exams in science and technology.

"The education system has not dealt with the growing problem because of the prevalent assumption that 'only geniuses study at the highest level of mathematics and physics,'" the study says.

The study finds a strong link between the eighth-grade students' achievements in the Meitzav exams and their socioeconomic background. The rate of outstanding students living in the wealthiest communities was four times higher than the rate in the poorer communities.

The rate of outstanding matriculation students in the wealthier local authorities is 9 percent, compared to 5.4 percent in the poorer ones.

In the eighth grade, the number of students who excel in mathematics and science in the state education schools is 1.4 times higher than those in the religious education system. By the end of the 12th grade, the number is twice as high.

The researchers suggest this is because of the few hours afforded science studies in the state religious schools.