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Economic Survey of Israel 2009: How to move ahead in education reform

 

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The following OECD assessment and recommendations summarise chapter 3 of the Economic Survey of Israel published on 20 January 2010.

The  Policy Brief (pdf format) can be downloaded in English. It contains the OECD assessment and recommendations.

Contents

There are considerable strengths but also some profound weaknesses in the education system

In some dimensions the education system has coped well, considering Israel’s high population growth and socio-economic diversity. Indeed, tertiary attainment in the working-age population is remarkably high. However, there are deep concerns regarding Arab-Israeli and Haredi education streams, which are separate from the rest of the population’s. In addition, the OECD’s PISA study, along with other international tests, indicates that there is a much more widespread problem of weak skills in mathematics, reading and science among secondary-school students. To the extent that workplace training and tertiary programmes fail to offset this deficiency, skills and tertiary qualifications are, on average, weaker than in most OECD countries, putting at risk further expansion of high value-adding activities.

In compulsory education some promising reforms are underway

The "New Horizon" deal struck between government and unions in primary and lower secondary education moves in the right direction, particularly its introduction of additional classes for small groups of students. In light of this, the obstacles that have prevented a similar deal with upper-secondary school teachers should be overcome in the revived negotiations underway. Reforms outside the New Horizon deal, many of which are in the process of implementation, are also admirable, in particular, the extension of compulsory education, caps on class sizes and the efforts to shift away from rote learning. However, the measures being taken suggest that further reforms to the system of final examinations (Bagrut) may be required. The new funding formula (the Strauss Index), which factors in the socio-economic characteristics of schools' catchment areas, is also welcome. Budgetary arrangements should be altered so that the formula, or other similar funding strategies, are used more widely. Alternative pathways in the teaching profession should also be expanded. A small-scale programme to bring professionals from other sectors, as well as other programmes to attract young teachers to the profession, reflect a promising approach and one which should be exploited further as a means of widening the pool of potential teachers and increasing flexibility in allocating teaching resources.

A stronger focus on tackling weaknesses in Arab-Israeli and Ultra-orthodox education is required

More strenuous efforts should be made to level the playing field for the Arab-Israeli population. Despite the policy attention that has been paid to this issue, substantial gaps in educational inputs have remained, such as wide differences in average class size. The various targeted programmes should be evaluated and, if necessary, reformed. In addition, more general reforms in education should put a high priority on reducing inequalities. Equity targets for inputs and outcomes should be adopted.
For its part the Ultra-orthodox community needs to be encouraged to strengthen vocational skills in education as part of wider efforts for a more self-sufficient, and less poverty-ridden, balance between worship and work. With independence from mainstream state education, boys’ schools often do not teach "secular" subjects such as mathematics and science. Girls’ schools focus more on vocational skills, but early marriage and family life means education and job potential is often not fully realised. Despite this weak commitment to job-oriented skills, the state provides considerable funding for these schools. Existing curriculum requirements on grants for teaching services in primary education need to be more stringently enforced. Similar conditions should be applied to secondary schools and other sources of state funding, such as infrastructure grants. Indeed, universal core curricula should be considered, which would apply to all schools whether or not they receive state funding. In areas where schools choose not to accept the conditions for state funding, the budgetary savings could be used to subsidise optional out-of-school private-sector education and training.

… and reforms need to be pushed through in tertiary education

Tertiary-level reform should be brought back on track following the aborted 2008 "Shochat" measures that would have linked increased state funding to a commitment from providers to raise tuition fees and adopt a range of structural changes. The overhaul had many strengths and should be revived, preferably with deeper changes in some areas. In particular, providers should be allowed greater leeway in setting tuition fees. Similarly, bolder reforms to make staff pay more transparent and flexible ought to be made. As well, disadvantaged groups' access to tertiary education should be monitored and targeted measures adjusted as appropriate. The Shochat Committee proposed bolstering loans and stipends to counter the increase in tuition fees: indeed no student should be denied access to higher education for financial reasons. More generally, difficulties in implementing change suggest a need to strengthen government control over education policy in the tertiary sector. While the Ministry of Finance already plays a key role, the Ministry of Education does not, and the central body for tertiary education, the Council for Higher Education, has, at least in the past, represented mostly the interests of providers.

How to obtain this publication

The complete edition of the Economic Survey of Israel is available from:

Additional information

For further information please contact the Israel Desk at the OECD Economics Department at eco.survey@oecd.org

The OECD Secretariat's report was prepared by Philip Hemmings and Charlotte Moeser under the supervision of Peter Jarrett. Research assistance was provided by Françoise Correia.

 

 

 

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