Education doesn't seem to be on the minds of most Israeli businesspeople, as the auditorium where the 2008 Israel Business Conference held a discussion on the education system's dire situation was left half empty on Monday, while other rooms were packed.
"Public education in Israel has dropped below the red line," said MK Michael Melchior, head of the Knesset's Education Committee.
"Every child in elementary school gets six and-a-half hours less than what a child got in 2000, and a child in middle school education gets eight and-a-half hours less."
Commenting on the results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study published last week, placing Israel in 24th place out of 49 countries, Melchior said he was pleased, "because they prove that there is a correlation between the investment and the results."
Melchior added that the lack of funding from the Finance Ministry forces 15% of students to turn to private education, while the payments parents of students in public education are forced to keep up with are out of control.
"There are children that come to school hungry," Melchior said, "because they (the Treasury) haven’t understood something as simple as the fact that children should be provided food.
"In a country like Libya each child has a computer, and in Israel most children don't have internet at home, and they don't have internet at school either. We are treading backwards deep into the third world."
'Lowest sum of donations'Education Ministry Director-General Shulamit Amihai had similar criticisms, saying, "The budgets that were added to the system last year as part of the Ofek Hadash (New Horizon) reform, which I welcome, have still not brought back to the system what was taken from it since 2001, and certainly not what was taken since 1990.
"I would like to shatter the myth that we invest a lot in education – indeed, we do invest a lot, but we have the highest number of children and the investment in a child's education in Israel is only $4,400, the least from all the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, that invest between $4,500 - $8,000 per child."
Amihai added that the total sum of donations from the private sector to public education in Israel was also the lowest in the western world. "No wonder well-to-do parents don't exactly go out of their way to leave their kids in public education," she said.
Gabi Salomon of Haifa University's Education Department said it was not surprising that very few students ended up registering to study for degrees in education.
"In the past, teachers were willing to settle for low wages for the professional satisfaction. Today that won't slide. We mustn't fool ourselves, even after Ofek Hadash, an engineer in the public sector still makes twice as much as a teacher. Countries that have decided to really promote education have made teachers' salaries equal to engineers' salaries – we are very far from this," he said.