After nearly two years living in Israel, I have formed a pretty solid opinion regarding the educational system here, and unfortunately, my perspective does not represent the most optimistic of understandings.
First and foremost, the country does not have the time, effort, nor budget to expend on education. From elementary school through university, Israel’s educational system encounters numerous problems and obstacles, including constant teachers’ strikes (two, month-long strikes in the past two years), lack of sufficient funding, overloaded classrooms and more.I work at a non-profit organization called the Peres Center for Peace, largely comprised of intelligent, dedicated people between the ages of 27 and 32. We are a small, tight-knit family, and the majority of my coworkers are simultaneously working and studying.
Because of the nature of Israeli society in terms of the army, most people work while they are studying. By the time they are ready to begin their first degree, they are already a bit older, living on their own, dealing with bills and “real life” expenses.
Accordingly, they are deprived of the privilege that certain Americans are afforded — the freedom to immerse themselves entirely in academia.
When I was in college, I lived in the dorms, joined a sorority, engaged in extracurricular activities and had a plethora of interesting courses to choose from, both pertaining to my degree and others that I could take just for fun. I had a rich educational, intellectual, emotional and social experience, during which I expanded my faculties, tested my abilities, discovered my passions and truly grew as an individual.
Israelis, unfortunately, would not say the same about their “college” experience (at least not my friends with whom I spoke on this subject). For the majority, university is largely for vocational purposes — they study the field in which they intend to work, and most begin to work while obtaining the degree.
For example, my friends at the Peres Center are studying for their first or second degrees in Middle Eastern studies, political science, or international diplomacy.
The advantage is that their studies are complemented by their work, and vice versa — they are able to learn about and apply elements of their field of studies, in parallel.
That said, I believe that both elements of their lives — work and school — suffer from such a scenario. They are forced to run out of the office early, miss meetings, come in late or take days off altogether.
Likewise, in school, they are deprived of the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in their studies, and instead, seem to view their classes and assignments as added stress, stolen weekend free-time and an obligation to “get through.”
All of my friends from work were elated and relieved when they completed a semester of classes or their degrees in general, while I fell into a deep, reality television-nursed depression when I graduated from college.
The paradox of this reality (I will try to open your Shabbat on a more optimistic note), is that Israel produces geniuses.
From high-tech and medicine to engineering and science (yes, they seem to be largely left-brained), Israel boasts a population of extremely intelligent men and women who have significantly contributed to numerous fields. The issues Israel faces in education merely serve to make such accomplishments even more impressive.
I only hope that one day Israelis will have the privilege to fully and completely immerse themselves in the world of academia — sans conflict, strikes and professional commitments.
After years of serving their country, I think they deserve to serve themselves.