OECD Report on Israelis' Lack of Skills Point to a National Problem That Must Be Addressed

Neglecting weak communities is a ticking bomb, which threatens not only the quality of human capital and Israel’s economic progress, but society’s stability and democracy.

Students at Tel Aviv University
File photo of students at Tel Aviv University, March 2013. David Bachar

A recently published Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report indicates that most Israeli adults (aged 16-65) lack basic skills and qualifications for integration into the modern workforce. These findings not only raise concern on the economic level, but point to a national problem that must be addressed.

The report lists test results showing that almost one of three Israelis lacks basic math skills. Also, more than a quarter of those tested failed the reading tests and there’s a relatively high failure rate in computerized problem-solving tests.

It should be noted that the tests did not include solving complex calculations, but questions requiring people to handle topics they would encounter in everyday life, like finding a telephone number on an Internet site, sorting emails and finding a book according to its title and description.

Another gloomy and worrying result is that the low standard is caused, among other things, by the prominent disparities between Israelis with outstanding results and those having difficulties.

The PIAAC survey results among more than 200,000 people in all OECD states, which find large disparities, follow other OECD reports ranking Israel high in inequality and poverty. According to the OECD’s figures for 2013, Israel is ranked fourth out of 34 in the inequality index. The PISA tests, which the OECD conducts among eighth-graders in all its member states, show that the disparities in the Israeli students’ achievements are the highest in the West.

The inequality is prominent when you break down the examinees according to their socioeconomic status and between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. There’s also a fundamental disparity between the achievements of relatively high-income earners and low-income earners, and even between those born to educated parents and those whose parents are uneducated. Israeli Arabs scored very low on skill, with results similar to the three states ranked in the last places. These results reflect Israel’s low investment rate in Arab education and in the Arab community as a whole.

Another disturbing figure in the survey is the prominent inequality in the workforce between men and women. Even women who achieved higher scores than men earned significantly less than them. For example, a woman on the two highest skill levels (4-5) earns an average of 14,490 shekels – 2,000 shekels less than men on a lower skill level (3). These wage gaps exist on all levels.

The warning lights that this test flashes should urge the government to prepare an action plan consisting of an investment in education, welfare services and quashing discrimination between Jewish and Arab students and gender discrimination in the workforce.

Neglecting weak communities is a ticking bomb, which threatens not only the quality of human capital and Israel’s economic progress, but society’s stability and democracy.