Hello From Jerusalem - January 13, 2015

Education:  Israel’s Top Priority


Israel’s party leaders are busy.  They are either building lists of candidates or trying to influence their party’s primaries.  They are also busy attacking each other.  Indeed, so far, the discourse has been entirely personal.  Netanyahu, Herzog, Livni, Lapid, Lieberman, Bennett, Kachlon, Galon and Deri have all made themselves the focus of debate.  Other politicians variously flatter or discredit each other, while the media loves the personal and passionate flavor of the discourse.


Unfortunately, no-one is talking about education.  Not a word on the budget cuts and the rise in violence.  Not a mention of the fact that salaries aren’t high enough to attract quality people to teaching – or that Israel’s attainment levels are worryingly low compared to other developed countries.  While these issues are debated at the beginning of every school year, they are largely subsequently ignored.



The Education Ministry’s budget is the second highest of any ministry, after the Ministry of Defense.  This year’s total budget is about 30 billion shekels, not including funds for higher education.  90% of the budget (27 billion shekels) is spent on the salaries of teachers, administrators, secretaries and janitors – 150,000 employees in total.  

Of this amount, 72% (20 billion shekels) is spent on teaching staff -- classroom teachers, kindergarten teachers, community college lecturers, ulpan teachers and adult education teachers.  The remaining 10% is spent on school busses, subsidizing parental contributions, logistics, building renovations, and setting and marking matriculation exams.
The fact that 90% of the budget is earmarked for salaries means that the education budget has far less flexibility than other ministerial budgets.


The growing gaps between the center and the periphery in Israel have grave implications for the country as a whole.  For this reason, reducing social and economic disparities, and creating a fairer and more equal society, should be the education system’s top priority. 

Families need to spend an average of $1,200 on school supplies in advance of the school year – and yet average incomes are significantly lower in the periphery than in the center.  Thus many families in the periphery can’t afford to buy all the required textbooks or pay for private tutoring or enrichment activities.

Not surprisingly, matriculation attainment levels reflect these inequalities.  Pupils from well-off communities do much better than their counterparts in the periphery.


How can we reduce these gaps?  By investing heavily in education in the periphery – including human, financial and physical resources. 


Israel’s education system needs major, long-term, system-wide reforms, including a differential allocation of resources between the center and the periphery.  First-rate teachers should be encouraged to work in the periphery.  Israel’s civil society should be strengthened and induced to play its part in supporting the schools system and providing supplementary programs and extra-curricular activities.



For those who are asking how they can help shape the future of Israeli society – here is the answer.   Investing in education will yield dividends for years to come.  Israel’s physical security, intellectual growth and spiritual wellbeing are all dependent on the development of a first-rate, equitable education system.  Let us all embrace this challenge.


Add Comment