Hitting Backspace / Number of School Computers Falling

One might be forgiven for thinking that schools in Israel made the leap to the computer age fairly easily. After all, the country, a high-tech innovator, began to prepare fairly early. In 1993, the Education Ministry published a master plan for computerizing the education system. In 2000, the ministry started the second stage of the plan.

The rub is, though, that the number of computers in Israeli schools dropped almost 20 percent over the past two years from 114,000 to 92,000. If in 2006 there was a computer for every 12 students, this year there is one for every 15.5. Sixty-one percent of Israeli schools do not meet the Education Ministry's target of one computer per ten students.

The numbers were revealed in a Knesset Research and Information Center report prepared for the chairman of the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee, MK Michael Melchior (Labor). Melchior noted the figures are even more shocking considering that computer prices have fallen in recent years from $1,000 each to only $200.

"Instead of marching toward the world of the future, we are taking giant steps to yesterday," he said.

Melchior said in parts of Egypt and Libya every student has a computer on their desk, a necessity in a world where so many workers use computers.

"There is no higher education without computer skills and no profession," says Melchior. "It's impossible even to vote in primaries [without a computer]," he said. Well, at least in the Labor Party you still can vote by hand.

Melchior also thinks the problematic figures will not interest anyone in the next few months due to the elections.

In recent years, thousands of computers have gotten old and unserviceable, and new ones have not been purchased in their place. In 2004-2005, funding from the Mifal Hapayis national lottery to local authorities was frozen, and the result was a drought in computer purchases for schools.

Mifal Hapayis distributed 12,000 computers a year until the start of the decade. Since then, the lottery has allowed mayors to decide themselves how to use the budgets, and the result has been that the numbers have fallen to only 3,500 to 8,700 computers a year. Many think the computer gap will only be closed when the state decides to purchase the computers from its own budget and stops waiting to win the lottery.

The gap in school computerization between different schools and towns has direct implications for students in this era of the Internet and computers. It will perpetuate the social gaps while closing possibilities for social mobility.

Almost the entire bottom of the computerization table is filled with Arab and ultra-Orthodox schools. At least for the ultra-Orthodox it is their decision, as many do not want computers.

The city with the fewest pupils per computers is Beit She'an, with four. In Abu Gosh, a developed Arab village near Jerusalem, the number is 75, the lowest. Twenty-eight percent of the computer purchased in the past three years went to Arab institutions.