Our country’s failings in comparison to other OECD nations have come as a major shock to Israel’s education establishment.
The PISA results for 2018, announced in December, revealed Israeli students performing significantly worse than expected. Gaps between the strongest and weakest students across our country are more substantial than in any other participating nation.
The gaps between Israeli Arab students and their Jewish peers are now the equivalent of three to four years’ worth of schooling according to the OECD. It is embarrassing – how is it that in an advanced country, where our progress in cyber and tech are held aloft as a beacon, the performance in classrooms has fallen so far behind countries such as Estonia, with far more limited education budgets than our own?
But these results do not reflect the reality I see when I visit our World ORT Kadima Mada schools in the north and south of Israel, nor the experiences of the hundreds of thousands of students we reach in more than 30 countries.
For 140 years we have worked to bridge the gap between ability and opportunity. By unleashing the potential of young people, we assist them to lead fulfilling lives and have a positive impact on the world around them.
And so at World ORT Kadima Mada, we are bucking the Israeli trend.
Our Kfar Silver Youth Village near Ashkelon saw matriculation rates rise by 43% in three years – higher than the national average and benefiting among others our Bedouin students who would otherwise not progress in their education in such a successful way.
Our YOUniversity Excellence Centers across the country welcome more than 8,000 students a year. Aged six to 18, they come from secular, Charedi, Orthodox and Arab backgrounds. The subsidized science and technology after-school courses, with innovative hands-on education provided by highly-trained instructors using the most modern equipment, give students choice and the chance to be part of an elite learning group.
Successful education takes many forms – inside and outside the classroom. Karam Abo Mosa was a Bedouin student at our Kfar Silver Youth Village. He credits the school as being key to earning his bagrut because the teachers “fought” for him. He didn’t speak Hebrew and initially struggled to integrate with Jewish students when he arrived. Now he is a successful, ambitious young man and the first Bedouin to attend the Derech Eretz Mehina ahead of entering the IDF in March.
Students such as Karam represent the possibilities for our education system and our country.
Israel’s Ministry of the Periphery, the Negev and the Galil, works closely with us to improve the educational opportunities available to children living outside central Israel. Last month ministry CEO Ariel Mishal acknowledged the equal opportunities we provide in the periphery.
“We picked Kadima Mada for a reason,” he said. “They gave the best offer of how to give the children the best opportunities, the best instructors. We know now that the children who go to the excellence centers stay there. They want more. In all the places we see the benefit. We are helping children fulfil their dreams.”
Over the past 12 years, we have invested more than $100 million in working to reduce gaps in Israel’s education framework. We are in the frontline in changing how Israel thinks about education – and with it we will help improve the country’s performance in the international league tables.
Avi Ganon is Director General and CEO of World ORT, a global education network driven by Jewish values which celebrates its 140th anniversary in 2020