Educational Inequality in Israel Among Worst in Developed World, UNICEF Reports

In terms of pupils ages 6 through 15, report shows that Israel has some of the highest gaps in reading skills among the countries studied. The only ones with worse inequalities were Malta, New Zealand and Bulgaria

Shira Kadari-Ovadia
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File photo: An Israeli classroom.
File photo: An Israeli classroom.Credit: Dudu Bachar
Shira Kadari-Ovadia

The gaps in education between children in Israel are among the largest in the developed world, according to a UNICEF report released on Monday. The report by the United Nations children's organization examined educational inequality in elementary and middle-school pupils in 41 of the world’s richest countries, all members of the OECD or the European Union.

Entitled “An Unfair Start: Inequality in Children’s Education in Rich Countries,” the report focuses on gaps in reading-comprehension scores between lowest- and highest-performing students, based on factors such as access to education, the child's gender, parents’ jobs, migration background, etc.

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In terms of pupils ages 6 through 15, the report shows that Israel has some of the highest gaps in reading skills among the countries studied. The only ones with worse inequalities were Malta and New Zealand (in elementary schools), and Malta and Bulgaria (at the junior-high level).

But there was at least one category in which Israel excelled: in the proportion of youngsters who attended kindergarten the year before they started first grade. Israel is among the leaders in this respect, with 99.7 percent of all children from the appropriate age groups attending kindergarten just before elementary school. Turkey had the lowest percentage of preschool attendance, 68 percent.

To study the inequality in reading skills in elementary schools, UN researchers analyzed the results of the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study. The PIRLS tests, conducted every five years, are administered to thousands of fourth-graders in 50 countries and are designed to assess reading comprehension using different sorts of texts.

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When examining the differences between the students with the highest and lowest grades in the PIRLS tests, researchers found the largest gaps in Malta, New Zealand, Israel and Bulgaria – in that descending order. The countries with the smallest gaps were Holland, Belgium, Latvia and Finland.

Reading-comprehension levels in the middle schools were based in the UNICEF report on the results of the Program for International Student Assessment tests, conducted every three years among 15-year-old students in OECD countries, to measure reading, math and science skills. Here too, Israel made a poor showing and is in the third-to-last place – after Bulgaria and Malta. The countries with the smallest gaps in this age group were Latvia, Ireland, Spain and Denmark.