Editorial

This Is How to Stay Behind

Figures show that Israel’s gap in math-test scores between students from richer areas and those from poorer areas is the third largest among the countries surveyed, preceded only by Turkey and Qatar.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) sits next to Education Minister Naftali Bennett during the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, 30 August  2016.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) sits next to Education Minister Naftali Bennett during the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, 30 August 2016. Abir Sultan (Pool)

Naftali Bennett was forced this week to deal with the TIMSS study results, which show that Israeli eighth graders’ international ranking in math and science has dropped.

Officials in the Education Ministry tried to explain away the figures by saying the study “shows no major change compared to 2011.” But they too must have read the data and understood that the major problem is not Israel’s standing in relation to the world but Israel’s standing in relation to Israel.

The education minister talks a lot about the importance of studying math. In June this year he even boasted that the number of students taking the five-unit matriculation exam in math has grown by 6,000.

But a closer examination of the TIMSS study results shows that in Israel, proficiency in mathematics is a matter of geography, or, more accurately, of socioeconomics. While students of high socioeconomic status have maintained their high standard, students of poor families are deteriorating and disappearing under the radar.

The figures show that Israel’s gap in math-test scores between students from richer areas and those from poorer areas is the third largest among the countries surveyed, preceded only by Turkey and Qatar. In sciences, the income gap in Israel is the ninth largest. The meaning is simple: If you have money and access to high-standard schools, you’re in good shape educationally. If you don’t have money and live in the periphery – the Israeli radar will probably not find you.

Bennett spoke a few months ago on the importance of Judaic studies. During the wave of fires last week he even tweeted: “Only a man whom the country doesn’t belong to is capable of burning it.” Indeed, the discrimination against Arab Israelis is well reflected in the TIMSS results: 55 percent of them range from “below the evaluation threshold” to “an extremely low level.”

So the education minister can continue to push the wealthier students with all those glittery campaigns, which always look good on TV and billboards. He can also flaunt partial statistics and the improvement among the outstanding students.

But ultimately the truth tends to emerge. A state that leaves the poor and needy behind is bound to remain behind as well.