Total government expenditure on public education in Israel is low, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which published its Education at a Glance report for 2023 on Tuesday. The report examines a wide range of educational parameters in 38 member countries, including Israel.
According to the report, which refers to data from 2020-2022, the total government expenditure on public education in Israel (excluding higher education institutions) was significantly lower than the OECD average in 2020 - $8,865 per year compared to $10,949.
The report also highlights that the distribution between government investment in private education and public education differs significantly from the OECD average. According to the report, while OECD member countries invested an average of 41% of the per-student budget in private education, in Israel, the figure stood at around 52%. It’s also noted that in Israel, the majority of private education institutions belong to the ultra-Orthodox education sector.
The report added that national spending on education as a percentage of the country’s GDP is among the highest in the OECD, but the proportion of youths (aged 6 to 17) out of Israel’s total population is also the highest in the OECD – meaning there are simply more students. While the OECD average proportion of youths out of the total population is 14.4%, in Israel, the figure is 21%.
The findings also reveal that Israel is ranked first among OECD countries in the growth rate of its young population in the years 2011-2020. The growth rate stood at 25.1%, while in other OECD countries, the average has decreased by 1.1%.
Israel, according to the report, is among the countries with the highest number of compulsory study hours in the OECD. An elementary school student in Israel studies 918 hours compared to 805 in the OECD average, and in middle schools, an Israeli student studies 976 hours compared to 916 in the OECD average.
More specifically, the number of hours dedicated to certain subjects in Israel in elementary and middle school, including Hebrew, heritage studies, humanities, mathematics and foreign languages, is higher compared to the OECD average. Additionally, Israel is one of the two OECD countries (alongside Mexico) where compulsory education stands at 15 years.
The report highlights that Israel's population is among the most educated in the world, with a significantly higher percentage of adults going on to higher education (50.6%) compared to the OECD average (40.4%). Moreover, approximately 88% of Israelis have completed secondary education, which is above the OECD average of around 81%. In addition, school principals in Israel are highly educated, with the majority holding master's degrees or higher – with 96% in elementary education, around 99% in middle schools, and about 79% in high schools.
"The way in which the investment in Israel’s education system is analyzed is suitable for well-structured modern countries with a single public system. Israel, however, has four education systems, and two of them – the secular-religious and the ultra-Orthodox – receive higher budgets than the other two sectors,” according to Professor Izhar Oplatka from Tel Aviv University’s School of Education,
“The government boasts about the growth in budgets for the humanities, but in reality, the majority of the budget in this category goes to the substantial growth in Jewish or Torah studies, which unfortunately aren’t sufficient for acquiring a modern scientific or technological profession on which the modern economy operates," he added.
The Education Ministry’s interim Director-General Meir Shimoni responded to the report, saying it "indicates that Israel’s education system successfully handles the complex challenges it faces, stemming from the country’s unique character. We intend to continue and address these challenges and narrow the gap with other OECD countries."
Education Minister Yoav Kisch also commented on the report, saying, "The number of hours dedicated to the humanities in the Israeli education system is high compared to the OECD average. These are subjects that constitute a significant part of Israeli students’ personal and national identity. I intend to continue down this line in order to deepen the identity of Israeli students to the history and heritage of their people, and empower their sense of belonging to their country and homeland."