Israeli Students Suffering From State Failure to Invest in Education, OECD Study Shows

Classrooms more crowded, less money spent than in most developed countries, student performance poor.

Lior Dattel
Lior Dattel
An illustrative image of an Israeli classroom.
An illustrative image of an Israeli classroom. Credit: Moran Maayan
Lior Dattel
Lior Dattel

Israel isn’t investing enough in education and its students are performing poorly, even though Israeli pupils in the formative elementary school years spend much more time in class than children in other developed countries. This is what the data from the OECD’s (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s) 2014 “Education at a Glance” report show.

Using mostly data from 2012, the report, released on Tuesday, found that Israel was at the bottom of most rankings for investment in education, classroom crowding and teacher salaries, while student achievement in the OECD’s international PISA exam was poor.

Yet at the same time that Israeli student achievement tends toward the low end of the OECD scale, elementary school pupils here spend far more time in class than children in other developed countries. In Israel, pupils spend an average of 5,741 hours in elementary school classes – compared to an OECD average of 4,553 hours. In Finland, considered one the leaders in educational performance, elementary school pupils are in class just 3,793 hours.

The report warned that educational mobility has started to slow down throughout the industrialized world. The proportion of people with lesser education than their parents is 9% among people ages 55-64, 12% among those 35-44, and 16% among those 25-34.

“Education can lift people out of poverty and social exclusion, but to do so we need to break the link between social background and educational opportunity,” said OECD Secretary General Angel Gurría.

Inclusive growth

“The biggest threat to inclusive growth is the risk that social mobility could grind to a halt. Increasing access to education for everyone and continuing to improve people’s skills will be essential to long-term prosperity and a more cohesive society,” he said.

Meanwhile, Israel is on its way to losing its place as the most educated country in terms of proportion of the population with a university or equivalent degree. Among Israelis aged 25 to 34, only about 44% have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, compared with 65.9% for South Korea, 58.5% in Japan and 56.9% in Russia.

In Israel, 46.5% of people between ages 55 and 64 have such a degree, making Israel the only OECD country where the older generation is better educated than the younger one. In the United States, for instance, the percentage of the younger generation with a bachelor’s or equivalent degree is 2.2 percentage points more than the older generation; in Canada the gap is 12.7 points.

The trend in Israel is due in part to the arrival of hundreds of thousands of highly educated immigrants from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s. Today, however, only half of high school students complete the bagrut (matriculation exam) .

Moreover, Israeli students’ performance in international tests of science, math and reading ability continue to show poor results, compared to other developed economies. In the PISA math exam, for instance, only 9.4% of Israeli students excelled in the exam while the number that failed it was the highest in the West.

In South Korea, a third of the students who took the exam excelled, while in Singapore the rate was 40%.

Israel is failing its children even as early as pre-school, the report indicates, with the amount spent on average for children ages 3 to 6 put at $4,058 a year – 45% less than the average for OECD countries. Only Estonia, Turkey and Mexico spent less.

However, the data predate the introduction of the 2011 Trajtenberg committee reforms, which mandated free education for three- and four-year olds.

Class size growing

But the reforms are unlikely to have affected preschool classroom crowding, which at 26.8 children per teacher was significantly higher than the OECD average. On average, preschools in OECD countries had 14.5 children per teacher, while in the United States it was 12.2, and in Sweden 6.2.

Despite a campaign that got underway in 2008 to reduce the number of students per class to no more than 32, the average Israeli class size actually rose to 27 in 2012, from 26.7 in 2000. Meanwhile, the average in OECD countries fell during the same period to 21.3 from 22.7 students, the report said.

Salaries for Israel teachers have risen 18.3% from 2008-2012 to the equivalent of $39,400 a year, which doesn’t include the impact of the latest collective labor agreements. But the increased salaries didn’t result in more teaching hours per teacher, which fell to an average of 956 a year in 2012 from 990 in 2008.

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