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Despite a considerable rise in the past decade in the number of pupils eligible for matriculation exams and those who meet university entrance requirements, internal gaps within the Israeli educational system have actually grown.

This transpires from a special report by the Central Bureau of Statisitcs (CBS) about the educational system in the years 1995-2004.

The report, entitled "Education in Israel as seen through Statistics," was published recently and the Education Ministry held a discussion about some of the findings.

The general picture that emerges from the report is not encouraging. During the decade covered by the report, the gaps between those in the periphery and those in the center of the country, as well as between the more established communities and the weaker ones, and between the Jewish and Arab sectors, have not closed. Moreover, the large increase in the number of pupils who meet the entrance requirements of the universities was found in the most affluent communities - those in the highest clusters of CBS's socio-economic index. Therefore, the gap between the strongest and weakest communities has widened.

During the years studied, the number of pupils in twelfth grade who took matriculation exams went up (from 75 percent in 1995 to 83 percent in 2004) and an increase was recorded in the number of those eligible for matriculation certificates (from 49 to 55 percent), as well as those who met university entrance requirements (from 39 percent to 44 percent). However, an analysis of the differences in the number of pupils who meet the entrance requirements according to a socio-economic index reveals that the most marked improvement was among the more established echelons.

The gaps were also manifested in the results for the math and English matriculation exams - perhaps the two most important subjects. In 2004, the grades of pupils who took an accelerated course in one of these subjects or both of them, and who live in cluster 9 or 10 communities (the highest), were between two and four points higher than the corresponding results among pupils who live in cluster 3 or 4 communities. The gap was even greater when it came to basic studies - between five and seven points.

Incidentally, the Arab pupils in 2004 had higher grades in math than their Jewish counterparts at all levels of the math exams but their grades in English were lower.

One of the possible conclusions from these findings is that pupils from well-off communities know better how to "exploit" the educational system by getting extra lessons or through enrichment programs. But the Education Ministry is not solely responsible for inequality in Israeli society; all the ministers who held the portfolio in the years studied announced that they would narrow the gaps between the various groups. The data indicate very limited success.

No integration

According to the report published by the Central Bureau of Statistics, 80 percent of the pupils in eleventh and twelfth grade in the Hebrew-language education system in 2004 were born in Israel, while 13.5 percent were born in the former Soviet Union (FSU). Two percent were born in Ethiopia and some 4.5 percent in other countries (mainly the United States). In a theoretical situation of uniform geographical distribution among the immigrant children, the population of pupils in every school should reflect that of the general educational system. However, the data reveal that a pupil from the FSU studies in a class in which 33 percent of the pupils are from the same ethnic background and a pupil from Ethiopia studies in a class in which 18 percent of the pupils are from his ethnic background. In other words, the integration between Israeli-born and immigrant children is in fact merely theoretical.

Nevertheless, the report reveals opposing trends in integration in the 10 years that it covered: The pupils from the FSU tended to congregate among themselves in the same class year (at a rate which rose from 22 percent to 33 percent over this period) while Ethiopian-born pupils were dispersed among the different schools (and the rate among them dropped from 44 percent to 18 percent).

There was an additional advantage to integration, over and beyond the desire and need to avoid creating "educational ghettoes." The degree of integration was also found to be linked with success in matriculation exams. In places where there is greater integration, the achievements of Israeli-born pupils and those from the FSU were higher. However, the researchers did not find a similar correspondence among pupils who were born in Ethiopia.

More educated teachers

Since the mid-1990s, the number of teachers with academic qualifications has been on the rise. At present, the percentage in the Jewish sector stands at 65.6 among elementary school teachers and 82.7 percent among high school teachers. At the same time, 9.9 percent of the teachers in the Jewish sector and 13.7 percent of those in the Arab sector are unqualified.

The researchers examined whether there is a correlation between the teacher's qualifications and pupil's achievements, and found a positive correlation between the teacher's academic qualifications and the pupil's eligibility for matriculation exams but not with actual matriculation exam grades. However, a negative correlation between the number of male teachers in the school and the pupils' achievements was found. The teachers' age was also examined: It was found that the more veteran the teacher, the lower the achievements of the pupils in the Jewish sector. This trend was reversed in the Arab sector.