The Ministry of Education’s Final Exam

This article originally appeared in the Times of Israel here.

This month marks the end of another school year and the beginning of summer vacation.  As a parent of school children in Israel, I’d like to propose that we conduct a small exam regarding the 2012 school year, to assess how our tax money is being managed by the Ministry of Education, the ministry with the second largest budget (after the Ministry of Defense) and the agency which is responsible for shaping our children’s future – the future of the nation.

To test the success of the education system in Israel, I have created a simple multiple choice exam with questions pertaining to the 2012 school year.  Please mark the correct answer (you may only select one answer):

A. Our children were in school until 16:00 every day.

B. Our children received free organized transportation to and from school.

C. Our children received free hot lunches at school.

D. Our children did not study the Ministry of Education’s core school subjects, but Baruch Ha’Shem, at least theyadvanced in the study of Talmud.

E. All of the above.

F. None of the above.

Does this exam seem rigged? I’ll give you a hint:  In terms of budget, answers A, B, and C have an immediate financial implication of hundreds of millions of shekels. However, this type of investment may be worth it since it would serve to advance our ultimate goal: creating a safe and educationally comprehensive learning environment for our children.

I’ll give you another hint:  Answer D carries serious social implications – if our children are not learning core subjects in school they will be severely disadvantaged in terms of integrating successfully into society and will likely end up living in a cycle of perpetual poverty. Accordingly, if answer D is correct, then we’re all in trouble.

And a final hint:  we would expect that in a western society (where there is supposedly equal distribution of resources) that nearly 100% of parents would respond identically to the exam shown above. Unfortunately, in Israel our exam answers would be noticeably divided into two groups: those who would choose F “none of the above” (since answers A, B, and C are far from most of our children’s school experience) and those who would choose E “all of the above” (between 15% – 25% of parents depending on the child’s age and grade, and whether or not the family is ultra-religious).

The Plesner Committee was recently created to address some of issues regarding the painful topic of the inequality in the military service burden.  What I think we have neglected to realize is that even if the Plesner Committee is able to advance the implementation of military recruitment reforms, it would not automatically result in societal reforms.  It actually does not matter what conclusions the Committee would have or could have reached, as long as the educational inequality, and the troubling increase of anti-Zionist rhetoric that is being taught in elementary grades around Israel is not addressed. Rather than just getting frenzied about recruitment reforms in the IDF, we need to be directing efforts to reform the educational system. It is impossible to repair the increasing gap between in Israel’s society and the injustices that come with it through military mobilization. It’s too little too late.

Meanwhile, another summer will pass during which more children will be registered in the ultra-religious educational system for the upcoming school year. Low-income families are finding it difficult to find an alternative which competes with a long school day, free transportation, and free meals. The greater the percentage of children in the 2012  school year who will not acquire basic tools for dealing with the future job market, the greater the inequality gaps and disproportionate distribution of public resources will grow. All of us have failed the final exam of the year, and the likelihood of improving the results of the exam a year from now seem very small.