In Israeli Schools, Less Science and English, More Jewish Studies

Figures reveal that the number of hours allocated to English, math and science for grade schoolers has been cut under Education Minister Bennett

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Interior Minister Aryeh Dery visit an ultra-Orthodox school on the first day of the school year, September 2, 2018.
Yaakov Cohen

The minimum number of instruction hours in math, science and English for Israeli grade schoolers has been cut under Education Minister Naftali Bennett, while funding for religious-education nonprofit groups is up sharply.

The statistics, presented during an interview with Bennett over the weekend, compared investment in religious-education groups that operate in schools, with investment in technology and science agencies.

>> With Israeli Education Minister Bennett, a new school year of indoctrination opens | Analysis 

The ratio has changed despite Bennett’s statements stressing the importance of math and English, and despite his dismissing of an Israel Television News report on the matter as “total fake news.”

Bennett said in response that he “reinforced science and math studies,” and that the news report used statistics from 2015, his first year as education minister.

Less math and science, more Jewish culture

Bennett was right in this regard, but a review of the Education Ministry budget by TheMarker found that during Bennett’s term, the ministry’s budget for Jewish-education NGOs has surged 70% since 2015 to 190 million shekels ($52 million) and is up 600% since 2013.

This money is split among hundreds of groups, including many that seek to reinforce Jewish values at nonreligious state schools outside the official curriculum and without any ministry oversight.

This does not include money allocated to Jewish-education agencies that operate within the ministry’s operating budget.

The budget figures show that under Bennett, the ministry has increased the number of hours allocated for Jewish culture in elementary schools, while reducing the number of hours that elementary school principals are required to allocate for math, English, science and technology. The number of hours allotted for Bible studies has not changed.

Every year, the Education Ministry tells elementary school principals how many instruction hours they are required to allocate for each grade and class.

This year, the number of math hours that nonreligious state elementary schools will be required to teach has been reduced to 30 a week for all grades, down from 36 as of Bennett’s first year, and under his predecessors Shay Piron and Gideon Sa’ar.

Bennett has repeatedly stressed how important math education is; Israeli students consistently underperform their OECD peers in international tests.

In addition, the minimum for science and technology, another field in which Israeli students consistently underperform, has been reduced from 18 hours a week to 12 hours a week under Bennett. In response to a query from TheMarker, the Education Ministry said it would be increasing the minimum number of instruction hours to 15.

Meanwhile, under Bennett the number of Jewish-culture instruction hours in elementary school has been increased to five hours a week. At Bennett’s initiative the subject has been introduced in third and fourth grades in nonreligious schools, as opposed to fifth and sixth grades as in the past.

The number of hours of Bible instruction – 10 hours a week – has not changed.

In total, as of 2009, elementary school principals at nonreligious public schools were required to offer 54 hours a week of instruction in math, science and technology, and 14 hours a week in Bible and Jewish culture.

As of this school year, they are required to teach 15 hours of Bible and Jewish culture, but only 42 hours of math, science and technology. That number was increased to 45 after TheMarker contacted the ministry for a response.

The number of English instruction hours has been decreased from 12 in 2009 to nine for 2019.

Sources in the Education Ministry said that these requirements were minimums, and that the changes were intended to give principals more flexibility. Principals are being allocated more hours overall in order to reinforce math, science and technology hours, the sources said.

However, principals are not allowed to teach fewer Bible or Jewish-studies hours, though they are allowed to permit one grade to skip the subject as long as the hours are made up during a different grade.