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Schooling and Equity in Israel  

Yariv Feniger, Yossi Shavit, and Shir Caller

Education in Israel is compulsory and free, from the age of three to the end of secondary school (12th grade). Compulsory education culminates in matriculation examinations that serve as the main criterion for enrollment in higher education. Although Israel is geographically small, and ethnic and religious subpopulations live in close proximity to one another, they are highly segregated both residentially and in schools. The Jewish and Arab school sectors are almost completely separate. Most Arab students study in Arab state schools, where the language of instruction is Arabic and the staff are Arab. Jewish students study in state, state religious, or independent ultra-Orthodox schools. The high degree of economic inequality in Israel is reflected in educational inequality, which is the highest among the countries participating in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Inequalities between social strata are affected in part by the economic circumstances of families in early childhood. Inequality in educational achievement is particularly evident between Jews and Arabs but it is also prominent within each of these two societies. The public educational system is centralized and curricula are standardized, but religious Jewish groups enjoy considerable organizational and curricular autonomy. Arab state schools, in contrast, do not enjoy similar autonomy. Rapid expansion of higher education has contributed to a dramatic increase in graduation rates in all social categories but large gaps remain, especially along ethnoreligious lines, in graduation rates, fields of study, and quality of institutions attended.