A report last year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development gave failing grades to the Israeli education system.
Half of Israel’s students graduate from high schools that emphasize rote learning over analytical thinking and offer little in the way of vocational education. Meanwhile, the number of students pursuing a bachelor’s degree has fallen. Of those who do graduate, many leave college without the skills needed to find gainful employment.
These are trends that spell trouble for Israel’s economic future, and prompted the Rashi Foundation and Kol Israel Haverim – Alliance, along with the Jewish Funders Network (JFN), to hold a conference in New York on Dec. 8 to talk about how to reverse these alarming trends.
The conference, Pathways: Education to Employment to Promote Social Mobility in Israel, is intended to defuse what one scheduled speaker, Dan Ben-David, has called Israel’s “internal ticking time bomb.”
“We have one of the worst education systems in the developed world,” Ben-David, director of the Taub Center in Jerusalem, told JFN.
One premise of the conference is that Israel must help all of its young people learn, so they can succeed and contribute to society.
“There are large populations that are not at the center of activity. It is our responsibility as a society to open the gates to bring them in,” Manuel Trajtenberg, chair of the Council for Higher Education in Israel told Bloomberg.
Tratjenberg, who is also slated to appear at the conference, helped draft a six-year plan to improve employment prospects in the Arab community in order to boost economic growth throughout Israel.
Pathways will also look at promising education-to-employment programs in the U.S. to see if they could be applied in Israel, examine successful strategies that have been used in Israel to see how they can be scaled to achieve maximum impact, and discuss what role private-sector funders can play.
Smaller breakout sessions will be devoted to vocational education, online learning, apprenticeships, and providing intensive support for at-risk secondary-school students.
One goal of the conference is to balance the perception of Israel as an economic superpower driven by its flourishing tech sector, with the reality of a nation burdened by a high cost of living where one-fifth of its citizens live in poverty and the median gross salary is just $1,531 a month.
It’s a complex problem, but one that even the harshest of critics, like Ben-David, says is far from intractable if sufficient resources, targeted strategies, and adequate funding are applied.
“We have all the pieces to change direction. The capabilities of this country to reverse these trends are empirically proven,” he told The Times of Israel. “We have all the knowledge we need. We just need to get it to our kids tomorrow morning.”