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Forty-four percent of Israel's pupils will be Arab or ultra-Orthodox within the next five years, according to a forecast issued yesterday by the Central Bureau of Statistics.

The data, issued at the start of the 2012-13 school year, indicates that the total number of pupils in grades 1 to 12 will grow from 1.579 million in 2013 to 1.695 million in 2017. This is a cumulative increase of 7.3 percent, at an annual growth rate of 1.83 percent.

As expected, the fastest growth is projected in the country's ultra-Orthodox schools, with an annual increase of 3.7 percent, compared to a 2.5 percent increase among religious Zionist schools, a 1.5 increase among Arab students, and a 1.5 percent increase at the state's secular schools.

According to the forecast, secular pupils will still constitute the largest student population, comprising 41 percent of the total in 2017. By then, Arab pupils will comprise 26 percent of the overall student population; ultra-Orthodox pupils, 18 percent; and religious Zionist pupils, 14 percent.

The Central Bureau of Statistics reports a worrisome trend with regard to the future of Israeli teachers, who as a whole are aging and are not being replaced by younger teachers. According to the CBS, the percentage of teachers aged 50 and above has grown over the past decade. Older teachers are especially common in Jewish schools in general and in high schools in particular, where 45 percent were aged 50 or over in 2011, compared to 33 percent in 2001.

Meanwhile, the CBS reports significant growth in the percentage of teachers with either master's degrees or PhDs - although social gaps here are clearly evident. Among Jewish schools, the percentage of teachers with advanced degrees was 29 percent in 2011, compared to 19 percent in 2001. Among the Arab population, the figure was half that, with only 15 percent of teachers holding advanced degrees, compared to 8 percent in 2001.

The CBS report also points to the system's failure to reduce socioeconomic inequalities, suggesting that a student's chances of matriculating and meeting university entrance requirements rises with the socioeconomic level of the community in which they live. Only 57 percent of 12th-graders in the country's poor Jewish communities (excluding schools under ultra-Orthodox supervision ) obtained a matriculation certificate in 2010, while in wealthier towns 77 percent of 12th-graders matriculated.

According to the data, the higher the level of the mother's education, the more likely her children will earn a matriculation certificate with distinction. Only 3 percent of children in Jewish communities (excluding schools under ultra-Orthodox supervision ) whose mother had up to eight years of schooling earned a matriculation certificate with distinction, compared to 15 percent of those whose mother had a bachelor's degree. Among Arab students, the link was even more evident: 2 percent of students with highly educated mothers graduated with distinction, compared to 28 percent among those whose mother had a bachelor's degree.

A reported 84 percent of all 12th-graders took matriculation exams during the 2009-10 school year, and more than half of them (56 percent ) passed and earned a matriculation certificate. This figure refers specifically to those enrolled in 12th grade, and does not include teens who dropped out of school before reaching their senior year.