School attendance is mandatory from age 6 to 16 and free to age 18. Formal education starts in primary school (grades 16) and continues with intermediate school (grades 79) and secondary school (grades 1012). About 9 percent of the school population aged 1318 attends boarding schools.
The multicultural nature of Israel's society is accommodated within the framework of the education system. Accordingly, schools are divided into four groups: state schools, attended by the majority of pupils; state religious schools, which emphasize Jewish studies, tradition and observance; Arab and Druze schools, with instruction in Arabic and special focus on Arab and Druze history, religion and culture and private schools, which operate under various religious and international auspices. In recent years, with the growing concern of parents over the orientation of their children's education, some new schools have been founded, which reflect the philosophies and beliefs of specific groups of parents and educators.
Most hours of the school day are devoted to compulsory academic studies. While the subject matter to be covered is uniform throughout the system, each school may choose from a wide range of study units and teaching materials, provided by the Ministry of Education, which best suit the needs of its faculty and pupil population. With the aim of enhancing pupils' understanding of their society, each year a special topic of national importance is studied in depth. Themes have included democratic values, the Hebrew language, immigration, Jerusalem, peace and industry.
Administration and Structure
The Ministry of Education is responsible for school curricula, educational standards, supervision of teaching personnel and construction of school buildings. Local authorities are charged with school maintenance as well as with acquisition of equipment and supplies. Teaching personnel at the kindergarten and primary school level are Ministry employees, while those in the upper grades are employed by local authorities, which receive funding from the Ministry according to the size of the school population. The government finances 72 percent of education, while the rest comes from local authorities and other sources.
The majority of secondary schools offer academic curricula in science and in the humanities leading to a matriculation certificate and higher education.
Certain secondary schools offer specialized curricula which lead to a matriculation certificate and/or vocational diploma. Technological schools train technicians and practical engineers on three levels, with some preparing for higher education, some studying toward a vocational diploma and others acquiring practical skills. Agricultural schools, usually in a residential setting, supplement basic studies with subjects relating to agronomy. Military preparatory schools, in two different settings, train future career personnel and technicians in specific fields required by the Israel Defense Forces; both programs are residential, one open to boys only, the other is coeducational. Yeshiva high schools, mainly boarding schools, with separate frameworks for boys and girls, complement their secular curricula with intensive religious studies and promote observance of tradition as well as a Jewish way of life. Comprehensive schools offer studies in a variety of vocations, ranging from bookkeeping to mechanics, electronics, hotel trades, graphic design and more.
Youth not attending one of the above schools are subject to the Apprenticeship Law, requiring them to study for a trade at an approved vocational school. Apprenticeship programs are provided by the Ministry of Labor in schools affiliated with vocational networks. Lasting three to four years, these programs consist of two years of classroom study followed by one/two years during which students study three days a week and work at their chosen trade on the other days. Trades range from hairstyling and cooking to mechanics and word processing.
Education for Exceptional Children
Gifted children, who rank in the top 3 percent of their class and have passed qualifying tests, participate in enrichment programs, ranging from fulltime special schools to extracurricular courses. A classroom for the gifted is characterized by the level of its students and its studies, with emphasis not only on imparting knowledge and understanding, but also on applying the concepts mastered to other disciplines. Children in these programs learn to research and handle new material independently.
Children with physical, mental and learning disabilities are placed in appropriate frameworks according to the nature of their disability, to help them eventually achieve maximum integration into the social and vocational life of their community. Thus some are taken care of in special settings, while others attend regular schools where they may be assigned to selfcontained groups or to mainstream classes with supplementary tutoring. Responsibility for their wellbeing is shared by health care personnel, psychologists, social workers and special education professionals, as well as by the family and various community support groups. A committee constituted by law and appointed by the Minister of Education determines the eligibility of disabled children for special education programs and facilities, which are free from age 3 to 21.