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Israel - Summary

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


Despite the clear goals for education established by Israel's founders, the system has not been very successful in achieving either the high level of excellence in curricular achievement or the full integration of a diverse population into a cohesive society. There are still strong divisions between Ashkenazi and Sephardic segments of the population, between religious and nonreligious Jews, and between Jews and non-Jews. There are also increasing differences and tensions across socioeconomic classes as Israeli society becomes more segregated and socially stratified. Widespread agreement within a pluralistic and democratic society has been difficult to achieve. Although the central Ministry of Education and Culture has responsibility for all the schools, local authorities, more responsive to needs of particular groups, do not always comply with Ministry programs and reforms.

The difficulties are particularly clear with respect to vocational education. In vocational education, there are competing needs: first, to serve a population of students who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and who are not strong students; second, to provide a solid academic preparation in addition to vocational training; and third, to prepare students to work in a variety of settings in the absence of on-the-job training in Israeli industry. These competing needs have resulted in greater distinctions and separations among groups, rather than greater integration. The system of tracking students into vocational or academic education has not promoted the greater social integration that is the overall goal of the education system. A number of recommendations have been made for reform of the vocational system, including moving all vocational training to business and industry, allowing the schools to focus on academic preparation of students.

One set of developments in the educational system in Israel is a byproduct of the work of a committee appointed by the government and chaired by Professor Aliza Shenhar of Haifa University. The committee was established in 1991 in response to two general trends observed in the matriculation examinations and subsequent studies of university students; the trends entailed, first, a decreasing number of students taking exams in any area of Jewish studies, and second, a similar declining number of students preparing to teach in these subject areas. The committee is referred to as the Shenhar Committee after its chair. It was broadly constituted, including people from all levels of the education system as well as those outside it, providing a range of viewpoints. The findings and report of the committee, entitled "A Nation and the World: Jewish Culture in a Changing World," were presented to the government in 1994.

According to Walter Ackerman (Making Jews, 1997), the report makes recommendations that address the fundamental goals of Israeli education. In particular, it suggests new curricula in four areas: Jewish culture in a universal context, Hebrew, Zionism, and study of the land of Israel. In making these recommendations, the report supports the key concepts of identity, pluralism, interdisciplinary study, and culture. Among other developments, the report has spawned changes within the Ministry of Education and Culture and in new programs offered by outside groups, including interaction with Jewish studies departments of universities, development of Internet sites, and connections between Israeli schools and other Jewish schools worldwide. There is also now an ongoing in-service program for teachers in the area of Jewish studies through a center established in 1995. The report and changes in curriculum seem also to have changed student behavior, resulting in larger numbers of students preparing for Jewish studies subjects in the matriculation exams and then enrolling in courses in Jewish studies at universities.

Further changes are difficult to predict because of Israel's internal and external political situation. Within the government, internal changes in the coalitions of parties holding a majority in the Knesset (parliament) inevitably have an impact on the Ministry of Education and Culture. Frequent changes in leadership lead to changes in programs. Externally, until Israel makes peace with its neighbors, there will always be a threat to its overall security. Educational goals are necessarily affected by the pressures of external forces. In general, the diverse demands of immigration, ethnicity, socialization, and religion all compete for attention in the educational system in the primary and secondary schools.

In higher education, some of these problems also exist. However, one general trend that is clear is that increasing numbers of Israeli students are going on to some form of higher education. According to Iram and Schmida, 90 percent of students were attending through grade 12 in high school. Increasing numbers of these students take the Bagrut exams; the percentage of such students eligible for college has also been growing. In response to this trend, Israel has been creating a system of regional colleges to cope with the growing demand for higher education. There were 22 such colleges in 1999, according to Schramm. Many students also attend foreign universities awarding academic degrees in Israel. These trends all contribute to the increasing democratization of higher education, enhancing the equality of education, one of the key goals of the system.


Ackerman, Walter. "Making Jews: An Enduring Challenge in Israeli Education." Israel Studies 2 (Fall, 1997): 1-20.

Bentwich, Joseph S. Education in Israel. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1965.

Cohen, Burton, and Mirjam Schmida. "Informal Education in Israel and North America." Journal of Jewish Education 63 (Winter/Spring, 1997): 50-58.

Council for Higher Education in Israel. Higher Education in Israel: A Guide for Overseas Students. 5th ed. Jerusalem: Committee for Overseas Students, Planning and Budget Committee, Council for Higher Education, 1991.

Eisenstadt, Shmuel N. Israeli Society. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1967.

Elazar, Daniel J. "Education in a Society at a Crossroads: An Historical Perspective on Israeli Schooling." Israel Studies 2 (Fall, 1997): 40-65.

Garfinkle, Adam. Politics and Society in Modern Israel: Myths and Realities. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1997.

Iram, Yaacov, and Mirjam Schmida. The Educational System of Israel. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Metz, Helen Chapin, ed. Israel: A Country Study, 3rd ed. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1990.

Sachar, Howard M. A History of Israel from the Rise of Zionism to Our Time. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1996.

Schramm, Lenn, ed. "Education." Israel Yearbook and Almanac 53 (1999): 128-134.

Sopova, Jasmina. "Distance Education in the High-Tech Era." UNESCO Courier 4 (April, 1996): 27-28.

Watzman, Haim. "Israeli Colleges Will Begin Using an Alternative to National Admissions Tests." Chronicle of Higher Education 46 (21 January 2000): A 53.

——. "A Virtual Jewish-studies Program Attracts Students of Many Faiths." Chronicle of Higher Education 46 (28 April 2000): A 51.

—Alice S. Horning

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