Israel ranks high internationally in education. An important element of the human development index, a well-performing education system bears a direct correlation to high employment among Jews and gross domestic product in the country.
PRIMARY & SECONDARY EDUCATION
A compulsory primary education policy in Israel has raised its literacy rates to 97.1 percent. Israel maintains several systems of primary education: state/public, state-based religious Jewish, independent Jewish, and Arab/Druze. The ministry of education monitors the standard of education in schools.
Secondary education is divided into two main tracks. The first track prepares students for a matriculation exam ("Bagrut") necessary for entrance into university. The second, vocational, track is designed for various professional apprenticeship programs.
In Israel, the number of students who pass the matriculation exams varies by both ethnicity and socio-economic background. Among Israeli students who passed the Bagrut in 2005, 50.1 percent were Jewish while 32.2 percent Arab. The rate of graduation also varies greatly with rates as high as 70 percent in wealthy municipalities, and less than 10 percent in some of the poorest areas.
The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics divides higher education into four categories: universities, the Open University, academic colleges, and colleges of education. In the 2005 and 2006 school year, there were about 197,000 students studying for a first degree in one of these institutions. Female students are well represented in higher education in Israel, with a enrollment rates of 55 percent.
Among students pursuing higher education, 41.7 percent of Palestinians in Israel attended university, in comparison with 38.4 percent of the Jewish population. These numbers vary for other types of education. Among the Arab population, 28 percent study at colleges of education while 10.6 percent attend universities, 5.7 percent the Open University and 5 percent other academic colleges.
RELIGIOUS & LANGUAGE EDUCATION
Israel’s decentralized education system has made it difficult for its secular government to maintain consistency in school districts across the country. The government regularly clashes with ultra-religious (Haredi) schools over educational content and state funding.
Language education at the primary and secondary levels is another contentious issue in Israel’s multilingual society. Modern Hebrew became the principle language among Jews in the region, particularly after the establishment of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1925. As a consequence, Arabic-speaking citizens of Israel have the challenge of incorporating Arabic language and history programs with competitive Hebrew and English programs that are necessary for higher education and employment in most sectors.
Although an official language during the British Mandate of Palestine (1920-1948), Arabic was not the language of instruction and lost importance once Israel was established. It was not until 1923 that Palestinian educators led a substantive effort towards increased Arabic education with the first modern Arabic history book, Tarikh filastin, published in Jerusalem. Today, the quality of Arabic education remains an important issue, particularly among Israelzzz*zs Arab, Druze and Circassians.