Israel’s nationwide teachers’ strike is in its sixth week, and the situation is outrageous and embarrassing. It should be intolerable for a government to allow 400,000 students to still be home in December. But the walkout is indicative of the crisis in the country’s once proud education system, now given failing grades by experts.
Underpaid teachers are demanding smaller classes and a 20 percent increase in salary. At present, 40 students or more are often squeezed into classrooms with only one teacher.
Levels of academic achievement have declined precipitously in recent years. Results published this week show that Israel ranked 40th out of 57 countries in reading and math, and 39th in science among 15-year-olds around the world. Some critics attribute lower scores to the fact that high school class hours have been reduced by eight-and-a-half hours a week compared to five years ago.
Like its political system, the centralized educational system is bloated by bureaucracy and inefficiency, with little individual accountability. In addition, the disparity between the level of education among wealthy children, whose families provide enrichment programs, and poor children is adding to tensions in a society already torn by religious and ideological differences.
These problems are not new. Three years ago a blue-ribbon task force proposed extensive changes in the educational system, but few of the recommendations were implemented.
For a country that prides itself, and relies, on brainpower, especially in science and technology, the current situation is deeply worrisome. And the fact that government leaders have not taken sufficient action to stop the strike is alarming.
One of these days the strike will be resolved, but unless and until the deep-rooted problems plaguing Israel’s educational system are confronted and dealt with, the prognosis for the future is bleak.