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Studies show that Israel is the third-most educated state in the world, with nearly half the population acquiring some level of adult education. Israel exceeds the OECD average for the percentage of GDP spent on education and for the number of children in pre-school programs. But Israel continues to fall far below OECD standards in its per capita expenditure for education, teachers’ salaries, and the number of students per classroom. Most disturbingly, the educational level of the general population has been plummeting—Israel is now ranked 39th in the world—especially in the sciences and math.
Prophecy is not to predict that these trends will steadily undermine Israel’s technological and economic edge and increasingly impair its defense. A closer look at the bleak picture shows that two rapidly-growing populations—Ultra-Orthodox and Bedouin—receive the minimal, if any, education necessary to integrate them into the workforce. Tens of thousands of young people are annually condemned to a life of poverty, unproductiveness, and dependence on hand-outs from the state.
To reverse this process, Israel must cease viewing education merely in pedagogical and budgetary terms. The perspective, rather, must be strategic. Investing in the school system, adequately compensating teachers, reducing class size, and assuring that all students receive a basic secular education, are all vital to Israel’s long-term viability. Haredi youth must receive instruction in English, science, and math and quality education accorded to Bedouin children, some 5,000 of whom are not in school at all. Without a solid, standardized, and state-monitored curriculum, the income gap will deepen in Israel and erode its social foundation.
Israel must also revamp its system of higher education. To fill its worsening shortage of engineers and computer technicians, Israel must adopt the German model of one and two-year vocational programs. The goal will be to expand the current 9% of the population currently employed in high-tech to over 50% by 2048.
Beyond even its strategic ramifications, education is a moral issue for Israel. Just as we must live up to our claim to be the nation-state of the Jewish people, so, too, must the state of the People of the Book continue to earn that title. Education has always been a Jewish value. It must be the hallmark of the Jewish state.
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