Text size

"A large part of the future of Bible studies in state schools rests on my shoulders," jokes Liat Levy, who began studying last year for a teaching certificate in Bible and Hebrew grammar at Seminar Levinsky in Tel Aviv. "We are a disappearing world," she says. The state lacks pedagogy students, especially in the humanities, but there may be a plus side to this, she says: "In another few years, teachers will earn more than high-tech workers, because the Education Ministry will have no choice. There simply won't be any teachers."

Of Levy's twin predictions, the dwindling teacher pool is the more likely. Ministry figures on teaching college enrollment for the last school year present a gloomy forecast. Only six students nationwide enrolled to become geography teachers, 13 enrolled in Jewish studies, 19 in Hebrew grammar, 35 in Bible, and 44 each in history and Arabic. Nobody enrolled to become a Talmud teacher. The most popular programs were in mathematics and science.

By contrast, training institutions for religious and ultra-Orthodox schools are thriving. At 13 state-religious colleges, 635 students enrolled in the Bible track, and 617 in Talmud. Jewish studies and Hebrew grammar also drew more future teachers at these institutions. Add to this the non-academic Haredi colleges, where an average of 1,500 students study Jewish studies and Bible each year.

The ministry also found that teacher training does not meet the school system's needs. "Placement for elementary-school specializations is very low in all sectors, and for some of the main subjects of instruction - like Hebrew grammar, literature, English and Jewish studies - hardly any training is going on at the colleges," the report stated.

The shortage in teaching students, especially in the humanities, also impacts universities, which train some 900 teachers each year, mainly for secondary school. The head of Tel Aviv University's education school, Prof. Yuval Dror, recently announced that due to low enrollment, eight programs would not take incoming students next year, including literature, Bible, Talmud and Jewish thought, geography and French. Programs for Hebrew grammar, English and Arabic would be opened only if at least 10 students sign up, he added.

"What that decision means is that throughout the vast Dan region, there will be no state-education training for secondary school Bible teachers," says a source at the TAU education school. "Teachers at state schools will come from national-religious institutions. One can debate whether there is any significance to the nature of the training institution for subjects like English or mathematics, but for Bible, the differences are clear: The state-religious sector teaches that subject from a faith-based viewpoint, whereas the emphases in the state training programs is much more historical."

A Central Bureau of Statistics report delivered to Education Ministry heads several months ago documents the flourishing of Haredi teacher training programs in recent years. In 1995, Haredi education students constituted 19.8 percent of all first-year students (including Arab institutions); 22.7 percent were in state-religious tracks; and 57.5 percent were in state-school colleges. By 2006 the picture had reversed: Haredi students comprised 44.2 percent of all students; the percentage of state-religious students had dropped slightly, to 19.2; and enrollment in state tracks had shrunk to 36.6 percent. If the data are limited to Jewish students, the ultra-Orthodox share totals 51.6 percent.

According to a senior Education Ministry official, the school system is short 650 teachers for the upcoming year. The shortage can be seen primarily in elementary education, and in several secondary-school subjects, such as English and civics.

"Every year, I am forced to beg the teacher training colleges to send me students, so I can offer them a job the following year," says an elementary school principal in the Tel Aviv region. "In the end, I'll have to compromise on the level of new teachers. On the other hand, it's very difficult to fire bad teachers. Even if I manage to remove teachers who are burned out, the Education Ministry tells me they can't promise I'll get new ones in their place."

The director of the ministry's Teaching Personnel Department, Noah Greenfeld, says this academic year will be a test case for teaching colleges. In an effort to fill trainee and teacher shortages, the ministry is giving preference to trainees in mathematics, English and sciences in secondary schools, and all elementary-school subjects, when distributing scholarships.

Greenfeld said that another plan is to give top students priority when teachers are assigned to schools.