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Graduates of vocational schools in Israel achieve less than their peers who attended general high schools, a new study by the Bank of Israel found.

People who graduated from vocational schools are less likely to get college degrees, work in less prestigious jobs, and earn less that their peers with similar cognitive abilities and backgrounds who graduated from general high schools.

"We should be careful in assessing how vocational education prepares people for the job market," one of the researchers said. "The education system should be serving the students first and foremost."

Vocational education has attracted considerable support in recent years: Officials have called for training a professional workforce for manufacturing and the Israel Defense Forces, while others argue that such education could at least provide jobs for weaker students. Supporters of vocational schools include Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and his ministry director general Shimon Shoshani. The Education Ministry recently began drafting a plan with the Manufacturers Association that would let factories "adopt" nearby high schools.

But the Bank of Israel study, conducted by Noam Zussman and Shay Tzur from the bank's research division, indicates there are several problems with vocational schooling. They say it pushes students from the periphery and disadvantaged backgrounds into less prestigious jobs, doesn't provide basic skills for social integration and is ineffective due to its higher costs.

Zussman and Tzur examined results from tests conducted in the late 1960s, which determined whether students would be sent to vocational or standard high schools. The researchers tracked whether the students continued their education and how well they did in the job market, based on census data from 1983 and 1995, when the former students were in their 30s and 40s.

The study shows standard high schools gave students a significant advantage.

Only 42 percent of vocational school graduates obtained a matriculation certificate, as opposed to 64 percent of their peers. Twelve percent of vocational graduates completed a college degree, as opposed to 27 percent of their peers. Thirty percent of vocational graduates found a job in academia, management or the free professions, as opposed to 42 percent of their peers.

Plus, vocational school graduates earned 10 percent less than their peers.

The researchers recommended several alternatives to vocational school in order to meet the needs of the IDF and manufacturing.

"More post-graduation professional training may be provided, accompanied by further training at the workplace," they stated in the study. "This could well answer the needs of the job market. The training would be held soon after the students enter the job market, and would be designed to meet the needs of the employers."