Hadas Gelbart
Georgette Hilu
National Authority for Measurement and Evaluation in Education (RAMA)

Overview of Education System

The education system in Israel is relatively centralized under the supervision of the Ministry of Education, which determines the national curricula, including a compulsory core curriculum, and implements national and international educational testing policies. The K to 12 education system consists of three levels: preprimary education (ages 3 to 6), primary (elementary) education (kindergarten to Grade 6 for students ages 6 to 12), and secondary education, comprising lower secondary education (Grades 7 to 9 for students ages 12 to 15) and upper secondary (senior high) education (Grades 10 to 12 for students ages 15 to 18).1 Although most primary schools offer six years of education (for students ages 6 to 12), approximately 25 percent of primary schools offer eight years of education. Education is compulsory for students ages 3 to 18, but this requirement is being implemented gradually and currently is fully implemented only for ages 5 to 16.

Almost all schools in the education system are public. Schools generally are divided by their language of instruction—Hebrew in the Jewish sector and Arabic in the Arab sector. Within each sector, schools are grouped under supervision frameworks, which represent different cultural and religious subsectors in Israel. Within the Jewish sector, these frameworks include secular, religious, and ultra-orthodox supervision; within the Arab sector, there are separate supervisory bodies for the Arab, the Bedouin, and the Druze populations. Under each supervision framework, the curriculum has different content and a different proportion of religious and cultural studies. However, the curriculum for core subjects, including mathematics and science and technology at both the primary and lower secondary levels, has no special tracks associated with it, and serves all students equally.

The primary and lower secondary mathematics curricula have undergone intensive revision over the last decade. The mathematics curriculum for primary schools was updated in 2006.2 The mathematics curriculum for lower secondary schools was updated in 2009, and introduced in schools on a large scale in 2010.3 With a focus on generating continuity between the mathematics taught at the primary and lower secondary levels, the new curricula join the two levels in a spiral teaching progression in which the mathematical knowledge covered at the primary level is integrated into new mathematics subjects taught at the lower secondary level, and the subjects initially covered at the primary level are revisited and expanded on at the lower secondary level. Further to this view, the subject domains of Geometry and Numbers, which are central to the primary curriculum, were integrated into the curriculum of the three grades of lower secondary school, to accompany the Algebra domain that was the focus of the previous curriculum. In the updated lower secondary curriculum, the domains of Algebra, Geometry, and Numbers (including statistics and probability) are merged into one subject, in a way that cultivates student ability to use multi-domain problem solving methods. Curricula at both the primary and lower secondary levels focus on different aspects of the development of mathematical literacy.

In science and technology, the learning curricula at both the primary and the lower secondary levels are based on a program that was developed in the 1990s (Tomorrow 98)4 within the scope of a national science and technology educational reform that treated science and technology as integrated areas of learning. Following the STS (Science, Technology, and Society) approach, a curriculum was designed for the lower secondary level, focusing on the acquisition of scientific and technological literacy. Novel learning materials were developed within the scope of the new curriculum, providing teachers with a variety of topics in each of the scientific disciplines (physics, chemistry, biology, and earth science) and with extensive autonomy to choose among them. Regional centers for professional development were established to educate teachers on the new curriculum and learning materials.

Beginning in 2009, a national program was established to strengthen science and technology education (Strategic Plan to Strengthen Science and Technology)5. Within the scope of this program, the curriculum for lower secondary schools was revised, and the corresponding learning materials extensively rewritten. During this process, technology was separated from the scientific disciplines, and topics were clearly defined within each discipline. The teaching sequence in Grades 7 to 9 was reconfigured in a spiral progression adapted to students’ cognitive developmental stages. Earth science was moved from the science and technology curriculum to the geography curriculum6 (which is available in most schools).

In 2014, a national strategic plan was developed to help shift the focus from student achievement, as measured by tests, to the processes of learning and teaching (Strategic Plan for Meaningful Learning, Israel’s Education Moves Up a Grade, known as Israel Olah Kita).7 Within the scope of the new plan, several subject curricula were revised, especially in terms of syllabus organization, teaching instructions, and assessment formats. The new strategic plan has had a definite impact on science and technology curricula, while the mathematics curriculum has remained largely unchanged (following a decision made by the Ministry of Education).

In both mathematics and science and technology, the implementation of the defined content in the selected teaching sequence as determined by the new curricula in schools is monitored continually by regional inspectorates. Experienced teachers are selected and trained as pedagogical instructors to help classroom teachers stay up to date with the curricula. In mathematics, each pedagogical instructor works with classroom teachers in five lower secondary schools, while in science and technology, each instructor works with teachers in eight lower secondary schools.

Languages of Instruction

Hebrew and Arabic are the two official languages spoken in Israel. Hebrew is the main spoken language, widely used in business, government, academia, and the media. Other languages associated with recent waves of immigration, such as Russian and Amharic, also are spoken in Israel.

At the end of 2015, there were approximately 1.5 million students studying in K to 12 classes in Israel. The languages of instruction in Israel are Hebrew and Arabic. Students in the Jewish sector receive instruction in Hebrew, and students in the Arab sector receive instruction in Arabic, in all subjects. In Hebrew sector schools, English is studied as a second language, usually from the third or fourth grade. Arabic is studied in lower secondary school as a third language, and is an elective major in high school. In Arab sector schools, Hebrew is studied as a second language, and English is studied as a foreign language, usually from the third or fourth grade. The curricula for mathematics and science and technology are written in Hebrew and translated into Arabic. All learning materials written in Hebrew are translated into Arabic to ensure students in the two sectors receive similar instruction. National tests are written in Hebrew and translated into Arabic, and international tests are translated from English into Hebrew and Arabic.

Because Israel is a country of immigrants, special attention is given to immigrant students. In accordance with policy, new immigrant students receive special instruction in Hebrew as a second language for approximately four years to support their integration into regular classroom instruction, conducted in Hebrew. Further assistance is provided according to individual student needs.