“Teaching,” said Albert Einstein, “should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as hard duty. Never regard study as duty but as the enviable opportunity to learn to know the liberating influence of beauty in the realm of the spirit for your own personal joy and to the profit of the community to which your later work belongs.”
In September 2012, the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) published a report on “Education at a Glance 2012” showing comparative education data among the 34 OECD member nations. In the report, Israel ranked second in terms of percentage of population aged 25-64 that have attained tertiary education with 46%, behind only Canada at 51%; and an OECD average of 30% for all countries.
Although there is often dissatisfaction across many sectors of society about the perceived low standard of education particularly in state schools and especially at the primary school level; and the fact that Arab schools do indeed, and regrettably, receive less funding for their children’s schooling, Israel’s intellectual capital (at adult level) is undoubtedly among its greatest assets as seen in its technological, medical, scientific and agricultural innovations. Because the country lacks natural resources, its future success and development are dependent on its educational system and the training of brain power. Education within all Jewish communities in and outside of Israel was in the past, and remains today, a precious legacy, evident in the many excellent institutions of higher education, and the informal education at all levels.
In the school system there are four stages: pre-school, primary school, intermediate school, and secondary school. Within these are state schools, state religious schools, Arab and Druze school, and private schools. While the state religious schools usually focus on Jewish studies, the Arab and Druze schools emphasize instruction in Arabic culture and religion; the private schools have various religious and international supports; and the secular state schools attended by the majority of Israeli children. The secondary schools are generally divided into vocational, agricultural and general education.
Over the past few years, the Ministry of Education has instituted a series of education television programmes (ETV) to supplement in-class learning. These comprise educational television for young children, educational entertainment for adolescents, and education and news services for adults.
Inclusive education – that is, including children with special needs in regular schools – is a feature in many of the public day schools. A survey of some of them revealed that in their highly developed special education programs for disabled children, they have included comprehensive libraries, computers adapted to their disabilities, and state-of the-art science laboratories and film editing studios.
Hand in Hand: The Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel, is a network of integrated, bilingual schools for Jewish and Arab children, its mission being “to create a strong and inclusive shared society in Israel through a network of integrated, bilingual schools and active communities. The organization’s philosophy is that the actual living experience of its students, teachers, parents and others who participate in its schools and communities can inspire broad support for social inclusion and civic equality in Israel.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hand_in_Hand:_Center_for_Jewish_Arab_Education_in_Israel) There are currently over 1100 Jewish and Arab students in the four schools, with plans to create between 10 and 15 integrated bilingual schools over the next 10 years.
The Muzik School of Creation and Production is the first music school of its kind in the Middle East and among the first of its kind in the world. This is an independent school for music creation and production whose mission is to train, develop, and promote original, creative, and innovative artists, producers, and professionals for careers in the Israeli and international music industry.
Israel’s Alexander Muss High School – HSI or AMHSI – is the only non-denominational, co-educational English language study abroad program in Israel for high school students. AMHSI founded in 1972 and boasting over 20,000 alumni, AMHSI provides American teenagers with the opportunity to spend part of the academic high school year or summer in Israel during their sophomore, junior or senior year. AMHSI is not an ordinary academic or travel program. Instead, the core curriculum is conducted in chronological historical order, with on-site learning at the actual places where history took place.
Taking into account its small population, Israel boasts an astonishingly high number of universities and colleges, thirty-five of which are ranked by the 2013 University Web ranking. Six of these are placed in the top 100 schools of Asia according to the Webometrics ranking; four universities place in the top 150 in the world according to the Shanghai Jiao Tong University Academic Ranking of World Universities; while three are in the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings. In addition, some of these are among the 100 top world universities in science and engineering-related subjects, including mathematics, chemistry and computer sciences; in the social sciences and in economics.
Because of the many different cultures and backgrounds of Israel’s citizens, the Ministry of Education maintains “a Department for Education for Democracy and Coexistence specifically to provide training for teachers and administrators and to develop curricula. Areas of focus include education for life in a democratic society; education for tolerance and accepting differences; education for life in a multicultural society (with an emphasis on promoting the relationship between Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens); and education towards peace.” (www.theisraelproject.org). Whether these admirable tenets will become the norm long term, however, remains to be seen.
There are also many varied educational opportunities available nationwide, quite a few specifically at various kibbutzim. Kibbutz Lotan, for example, offers 4 internships focusing on alternative building, organic gardening, social media and PR, and experiential environmental education all through the Lotan Centre for Creative Ecology. This is just one of the many kibbutzim where unusual and exciting courses can give a different perspective to the usual education.
Reading – fiction and non-fiction, magazines, journals, comics, poetry, classical literature – is an integral part of the Israeli culture; and based on this belief the Tel Aviv Municipality has recently opened a library at the beach, supplying both print and electronic reads in five languages: English, Arabic, Russian, French and Hebrew. Prior to that, the city had installed bus-stop public libraries two years ago; and their success prompted the opening of this unusual library which is today a feature of the Israeli beach scene. It has now joined the country’s other 860 public libraries catering to the widest and most diverse reading taste, proving that education can be fun, entertaining and always available. As proof of this, a 2004 poll (somewhat dated but nonetheless a good indication) showed Israel’s literacy rate at an astonishing 97% – a figure which could, though, be misinterpreted as it excluded special education and Arab/Bedouin/Druze students, the latter whose achievements are unfortunately rated at a much lower standard than that of the Jewish students.
Today in Israel, as across the world, people are learning in bookstores, video stores, museums, and cyberspace; at summer camps, retreats, and theme parks; on kibbutzim, cruise ships and laptops, all as vibrant partners in the process of education.