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Preprimary & Primary Education

The preprimary educational program developed from the traditional Jewish Heder (translated from Hebrew as room), a form of early childhood education common among Jews in the Middle Ages. In the Heder, boys from age 3 to 13 would study Hebrew and learn religion from a single teacher. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Israeli schools had begun to develop kindergarten and nursery school programs consistent with modern concepts of early child development. These programs entail general preparation for school in three areas: social skills, Hebrew language and cultural study, and some academic preparation for reading and writing. The goal of both nursery school and kindergarten is to help unify the country by offering equal educational opportunities to all students and to help improve children's chances of success in all their education.

The primary school system ranges from six to eight years, depending on whether a particular school has changed from the old (eight/four) pattern of longer primary and shorter secondary schooling to the newer one (six/six). Historically, prior to Israel's independence as a country, there were several competing approaches to primary education. The chief difference among these approaches concerned the amount of time devoted to religious studies as opposed to secular subjects. A secondary issue concerned the use of Hebrew as the language of instruction, a matter settled by the end of World War I with the widespread use of modern Hebrew as the language of instruction in the schools. The State Education Law of 1953 created the configuration of state or state-religious schools, and private religious schools.

The primary schools address issues that arise from the diverse population of Israel and its large immigrant groups. The dual goals of equality of opportunity and integration into Israeli society provide the focus of instruction in the primary school system. Failure to achieve these goals created a need for major reform of the educational system. The reform began in 1968 with the School Reform Act. Parental involvement in the schools has also shifted over time, with some parents seeking a greater degree of choice in terms of their children's enrollment in a particular school. Parents also sought control over curriculum, requesting enrichment in both creative and academic areas. By the 1990s, some specialized schools with enhanced curricula had begun to develop as a result of parental involvement. There was also significant opposition to such arrangements by other Israelis and by professional educator groups, because they were perceived as giving rise to segregated schools and to an elitist form of education; thus, the government provided no additional support for them.

The curriculum of the primary schools is set by the Ministry of Education and Culture. It includes the usual school academic subjects: science, math, geography, history, and so forth. In all schools, students also study the Bible and Talmud (Jewish tradition), with more time allocated to these subjects in the state religious schools than in the state schools. In language study, children are taught Hebrew language and literature, because among immigrant groups Hebrew may not be the native language. The study of English as a first foreign language is required beginning in grade 5 or grade 6, though in a few schools French is required in place of or in addition to English (Bentwich). Two other areas included in the curriculum are manual training (woodwork or metalwork for boys, domestic science for girls, and agriculture for all) and social education (current affairs, proper behavior, respect for property, etc.). There are additional co-curricular activities such as field trips and clubs to give students opportunities for social education; co-curricular activities thus address the goal of helping immigrants become integrated into Israeli society.

Students generally proceed together through the education system as part of a cohesive group. Each school year, they are not rearranged into different classes, but instead, stay together with the same group through their entire education. Considerable emphasis is placed on making sure that everyone stays with the group (i.e., remediation for slower students as necessary); less emphasis is given to enhancing opportunities for the more able students.

This strategy is used deliberately as a form of preparation for compulsory military service for all Israelis at the age of 18. When young people enter the military, they are already part of a unit with others they have known for many years, creating a sense of equality, community, and mutual responsibility. Once in the army, they will function more effectively as a unit. In addition, and of necessity, primary schools in Israel provide instruction for all students in how to respond to a security emergency (Garfinkle).

Primary education is widespread. It provides students with basic instruction in conventional school subjects, languages, and religious studies while it builds group cohesion. The diversity that is the result of Israel's immigrant population is addressed through the curriculum and supplemental activities, allowing new citizens to be integrated into the society through equality of opportunity within the educational system.

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceIsrael - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education