Friday, December 25, 2009

What Did You Learn In School Today?: Israel's Center Cannot Hold

Dan Ben David, a Tel Aviv University economist, and executive director of the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies, has led the writing of a report on Israel's failing educational system. He summarizes its findings today in Haaretz. For secular Israelis--not Israelis who oppose expressions of religious imagination, but those who see these as inherently voluntary, and civil society as a space where conscience is protected--the results are sobering. It makes you happy to be 60 and not 20.

Israel's education system has four streams: state, state-religious, ultra-Orthodox and Arab. There are fewer primary school students in the state education stream now than there were a decade ago. In contrast, the state-religious primary schools have seen a 9 percent increase since 2000. The number of children in the Israeli-Arab stream grew by 35 percent, while the number of ultra-Orthodox children grew by 49 percent. All of this transpired in just one decade. About half of all primary school students in Israel already study in either the Israeli Arab or the ultra-Orthodox systems.

And what is Israel's next generation studying? Is it receiving the tools it needs to survive in a modern and competitive market?

If these children adopt their parents' work norms, then what can Israel look forward to in a number of years? Last year, 12.5 percent of men of prime working age (25 to 54) in OECD Western countries were non-employed, meaning they were either unemployed, or had dropped out of the labor force. The percentage of non-employed Israeli Arab men was almost twice that. Of the ultra-Orthodox men, more than 70 percent were non-employed. Among women, 74 percent of Arabs and 46 percent of ultra-Orthodox were non-employed, compared to only a third in the West.

Could such rates of non-employment characterize the majority in a first-world country? Could a non-first world, non-Muslim country survive in this Middle Eastern neighborhood?

And what about the current majority that is destined to become the minority? Non-employment rates of 16.5 percent among non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish men of prime working age may look good when compared to other groups, but they are nonetheless one-third more than is common in the West. How has this happened?

One explanation can be found in grade-school curricula as it relates to core subjects. Recent studies have found that education in core subjects affects an individual's income and the country's standard of living. A new study by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, which will appear in an upcoming report on the state of the country's society and economy, summarizes an entire decade of international exams, and compares Israel to a fixed list of 25 OECD countries.

Since 1999, Israel has participated in five different international exams in mathematics, science and reading. In all but one of the exams, Israel's children performed lower than their peers in every single Western country. In light of the fact that since the 1970s, Israel's living standards have been steadily falling farther and farther behind the leading Western countries, these outcomes do not suggest a change in direction is in the offing.

Educational gaps within Israel were higher than those in each of the 25 OECD countries during every year in the past decade. Since Israel's economic gaps are already among the highest in the West, and in view of the fact that the education system is the primary springboard into the labor market, how could one expect any future improvements?

Since 1999, Israel's weakest students, those in the bottom fifth percentile, have performed worse than the weakest students in every one of the 25 OECD countries, on every single exam. Israel has one of the Western world's highest poverty rates - and among its children, one can see what the future holds

It is important to point out that pupils in ultra-Orthodox schools, who do not study math or science at core curriculum levels, do not participate in the international exams. In other words, Israel's children managed to garner these problematic achievements without any assistance from the ultra-Orthodox sector.

During the decade since 1999, Israel passed a milestone when its future formally parted ways with its past. In the past decade, former Israeli pupils went on to receive more Nobel Prizes in the sciences per capita than in any other country in the world. Meanwhile, current pupils, those in the country's top fifth percentile, ranked close to the bottom compared to the Western world in every single exam (see table). How ironic it is that while receiving such a reminder of Israeli society's potential, we're also witnessing the terrible bungling of the baton's passing between generations.


Shoded Yam said...

I just read somewhere that 70% of Israeli's are obese or overweight and the Knesset is considering raising the drinking age in light of increased teenage intoxication and malfeasance.

Once again, we look to Hollywood, for those pearls of relevance that span the decades;

Animal House (1978)

Dean Vernon Wormer: [Informing the Deltas of their grade point averages] Mr. Dorfman: 0.2. Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.

Anonymous said...

"About half of all primary school students in Israel already study in either the Israeli Arab or the ultra-Orthodox systems."

Surely Bernard the issue is not whether the number of Arab (Palestinian) school children are increasing but the terrible discrimination they receive in education sector funds, and later in the job market, that makes their ability to find and retain well paying jobs so difficult.

Lumping Israel's Arab minority _ which overwhelmingly would like to get ahead _ with the ultra orthodox who chose their impoverished lifestyles _ seems truly to smack of that IsraelĂ­ center which for so long, has not distinguished the two different communities.

Israel could leap foward if it funded the Arab education sector properly, and began treating all its citizens _ well, like citizens.

Potter said...

If I look for data on unemployment in Israel I find a low number- like 6 or 8% in recent years. But the statistics of the whole of society ( as compared to other developed countries) tells a different story of unemployment. And too comparative educational statistics are not only low but would be even lower if the whole of Israeli society were mixed in.

The Ben David article shows a graph from the Taub Center- and if you go to their website, there are three short articles from the November bulletin & more graphs related.

The articles are: "Dilution of Ingenuity", "Unequal and Unsustainable" and "The People of the Book and Their Children's Education"


Y. Ben-David said...

Here we see the hypcocritical "progressive" at his best. On the one hand, we are told we should be "pluralistic" and "multicultural" and to respect the "other", and how Israel should not be a "Jewish state" but rather a "Hebrew Republic" in which any Hebrew speaker including Arabs is part of the ruling group, yet here he is complaining about how the "OTHER", i.e. the Arabs and the "Judeans" (the primitive religious) are going to "take his country away from him" (as if he owns it).

First of all, Bernie lumps all the "Haredim" into one group, including both the SHAS-Sefardic students together with those attending Ashkenazic Haredi schools, but their educational approach is different. The SHAS schools do educate their students to enter the work force and do not view long-term kollel studies as desirable for most as do many of the Ashkenazic schools.

Secondly, the national religious schools fully educate for their students to enter the work force and in fact their schools have the best results on the matriculation exams. That is why there has been an explosion in the number of knitted kippa wearing combat soldiers, engineers, scientists and businessmen.

Thirdly, Bernie fears that the "Ultra-Orthodox" are going to force people to be religious...nothing is further from the truth...the Haredim have NO interest in running the state, they are passive and their attitude towards Zionism is ambivalent at best and they discourage their people from over-involvement in the affairs of the state. Their main interest is to be left alone to conduct their own affairs.

Fourth, there is a steady increase in the number Ashekenazic Haredim who are taking vocational training and the number entering the work force continually increasing.

Fifth, if Bernie doesn't like the way the secular schools are performing, then he has only his fellow "progressives" to blame...they have had control of this system for decades. If these schools are deteriorating it is because of the lack of discipline and experiments with "democratic" education that have caused the problems. The previous government had the "super-Progressive" Yuli Tamir as Education Minister. Why, pray tell, Bernie, didn't she, whose views about Israel and Zionism are about the same as yours, straighten everything out?

Sixth-what about the Arabs, Bernie? Are you going to force your "Hebrew" culture on them? You going to force secularization on them in order to bring them up to your "standards"? Education in the Arab sector is not a problem only in Israel, but throughout the Middle East which lags behind the rest of the world in scholastic and intellectual achievement.

Y. Ben-David said...

Bernie is looking at demographic trends in school enrollment, and is afraid the "wrong" people are going to come to power and take "his" country away from him.

I will now give him some suggestions as how to avoid this problem, based on previous experience of various countries:

(1) Go back to a qualified voter franchise. This was what was done in the early years of the US. Find out what the median income of your favored "entrepeneural elite" class is and only give the vote to those who have an income at least as much as that. This was justified on the grounds that only property owners had a real stake in how the state is run, the rest are simply an irresponsible rabble best kept out of power. This method was used to keep power from the Catholics in Northern Ireland up until the 1960's.

(2) Reinistate literacy tests and poll taxes. After the Civil War in the US, blacks were given the vote by the victorious Union forces in the South. The southerners were alarmed, just like Bernie, that "unqualified" people were allowed to vote so these devices were introduced to make sure only "qualified people" would vote. I am sure Bernie can find some appropriate text that would be used in the literacy test to make sure the uneducated don't pass.

(3) Lenin's solution to the problem of making sure "counter-revolutionaries" don't have power and that his "revolutionary elite" ran everything was to carry out a coup and to disband Russia's version of the Knesset-the "Constituent Assembly" in which his Bolsheviks had only 25% of the seats. Stalin later closed the churches, synagogues and mosques in the country in order that everyone would be exposed only to "progressive" ideas of the type Bernie approves of.

Which method is best for ensuring the rule of the "entrepeneural elite" in Bernie's "Hebrew Republic"?

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