Constitutional & Legal Foundations
The formation of the educational system of Israel has come about through a series of laws setting up the system and making changes within it to address diversity issues and problems. It is a highly centralized system, overseen by the Ministry of Education, and Culture and Sport, including separate schools for the Arab and Druze segments of the population. The school system has two major goals: providing equal educational opportunities to all segments of the population, and integrating the large numbers and varied groups of immigrants into the country and the culture.
The basic arrangement of primary and secondary schools and a variety of institutions of higher education, both academic and vocational, has been in place for most of the twentieth century. In addition, the laws provided structure for compulsory education and unified some aspects of the curriculum. Five major pieces of legislation have contributed to the formation of modern Israeli education, along with a variety of other regulations adopted by the Knesset. In 1949, the Compulsory Education Law provided free and required primary education for children between the ages of 5 and 13, requiring 1 year of kindergarten and 8 years of primary school. It was later amended to expand the program to children beginning at age 3.
Subsequently, the government has extended compulsory education through grade 10 and offered free public education through grade 12. Schools may be state schools or state religious schools, as provided for in 1953, through the State Education Law. Among the state schools are the Arab state schools that use Arabic as the language of instruction. This law also allows for nonstate education, mostly through private religious schools, both Orthodox Jewish schools and Christian schools of various denominations.
In 1958, the Council for Higher Education Law centralized and formalized higher education in Israel through the creation of the Council for Higher Education, the central authority for all forms of higher education. It is chaired by the Minister of Education and Culture. The Council oversees the funding, planning, accreditation, degree offerings, academic freedom, and levels of autonomy for all institutions of higher education in the country.
In 1968, the School Reform Act revised the structure of the education system. This Act was intended to replace the eight years of primary education and four years of secondary education with a new structure. As a result of the change, students have six years of primary education, three years of junior high school or intermediate education, and three years of high school. For various sociopolitical reasons, the new structure has only been partially implemented, so that some students still receive the eight-year primary education before moving to grade 9 in junior high (Iram and Schmida). A second goal of the Reform Act was to provide a secondary education for all, partly through expansion of vocational education. There was also a greater need for vocational training in the areas of technology, mechanics, and related areas (Iram and Schmida).
In 1990, the Long School Day Law extended the school day to 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for schools where students were doing inferior work in comparison to students in other parts of Israel. The extended hours made it possible for the schools to provide additional small-group instruction, particularly in Hebrew and in mathematics, to help students learn more effectively.
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