Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The future of schooling and homeschooling in Israel

Some time ago, I read an article in one of our local newspapers about a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly common in Israeli schools: teachers count on their struggling students to get back-up lessons through private tutoring, to an extent that they don't really try very hard to present the material in a way that would be understood by each and every student.

Private tutoring was very common when I was still in school. I think every student in my class took private lessons at some subject or other, and usually in more than one. I took private lessons in math myself. We soon found out that we were dependent on our private lessons, and if we struggled, it was practically the only way to get extra help because the school provided none. Of course, this meant that those who could not afford private tutoring would not get decent marks in the subjects they found more difficult – creating a huge discrepancy between students from rich and poor families.

Now it seems that in some schools, the situation resembles a mafia of sorts, with teachers failing on purpose to adequately present a subject, and then directing their students to private tutors - their colleagues, teachers from other schools, who are trying to supplement their meager salary. In turn, they serve as private tutors themselves to students from other schools.

It's very understandable to me, of course, why private tutoring is such a popular system. I think it would be safe to say most children blossom when they get lots of one-on-one attention, which is something that is impossible to achieve in a classroom of 30 students. But of course the current school system, as it is, is intolerable.

I'm certain that voices will cry for a school reform, which is undoubtedly much needed. Perhaps changes will form, but it will take time, and in the meantime children will continue to suffer from an inadequate education.

For some families – not many, but some – the answer, I'm sure, will be found in homeschooling. The first buds of it are already seen in Israel, though homeschooling families are still regarded as freaks. Some time ago I read an article about homeschooling parents who were born in Israel – a rare phenomenon, as most Israeli homeschoolers, I believe, are people from English-speaking countries.

I doubt homeschooling will ever becoming truly popular here, because Israel is a country with highly institutionalized childcare and very few stay-at-home mothers – and let's face it, a parent at home is probably necessary for homeschooling to succeed. But I think it will take hold in some families who want to make sure their children are properly educated, and are ready to take the challenge of living on one income to make it happen.


Gothelittle Rose said...

You know, I almost wonder if something like that is happening in the U.S. I'm one of those private math tutors (a good job for a nursing mother!) and the kids I'm getting are surprisingly bright for "math delinquents". They just need it explained a different way and then some homework to lock it down.

Cindy said...

I am curious what the homeschooling laws are in Israel right now. Do you have the freedom to homeschool?

Anonymous said...

The school system here is pretty terrible for a variety of reasons. I teach English as a second language to high schoolers. There are 40-42 kids in each of my classes. Discipline is a huge challenge.

However, sorry to disappoint, there is no mafia of teachers or conspiracy to get kids to take private lessons. It is illegal to teach any of your students privately, and certainly there is no secret plan to teach badly so kids will need to take lessons with somebody else. Each teacher is judged according to the students' results on the matriculation, and it is in the teacher's best interests to make sure each and every pupil does the very best s/he can. Too bad it's such a difficult job.

Laura Spilde said...

I was a tutor for a while in all high school subjects. I enjoyed it. I can see why students need help in the math field because I have helped students with their math homework only to discover that they are using advanced calculators that I cannot even understand. Math in and of itself can be solved without the use of a calculator. It was difficult to help a child with math homework when I was not familiar with the calculator.

Anonymous said...


It is troubling to hear of the "mafia" type situation happening in Israel's education system. In the end, the children pay the ultimate price for these tactics. It is the same way here in that homeschoolers are seen as weird or freakish. People shout about how homeschooled children won't get adequate "socialization" being at home so much, but is secular "socialization" what we want for our children? Not my children. I want to have a say and some control over who makes impressions on them socially, and not leave it to others, especially while they are very young. --Leah

Mrs. P said...

Wow. I have to say, we are very blessed to have an excellant school here for our elementary aged sons. I've already been dropping the seeds to my dh about the potential for homeschooling or private schooling them once they hit jr. high level though for some similar reasons.
Kudos for thinking about your little one's education already!

Undersharing said...

I was initially surprised that homeschooling is so rare in Israel. Then I thought about the more established Jewish areas and groups in the US and remembered that there is a HUGE emphasis on setting up schools. In some of the Hasidic communities in New York (most notably Kiryas Joel) it can go as far as 'taking over' a public school with some interesting techniques to keep non-Hasidic kids out. Iwill say that it seems like a lot of trouble to go to when homeschooling is so accepted here and the parents could have a lot more control over the curriculum.

When I was in elementary school, my parents moved from a 'good' school districtto one in a farm town. I started out halfway through my second grade year, missed almost a month due to surgery, and still was about a year ahead. They had a gifted education program, but it was pretty much going to another room for a few hours a week to work on math and logic worksheets. It was fun, but not really any sort of academic boost.

My mother was furious about this- if she had known that all the testing they had to do only got me a booklet of worksheets she would have gotten me worksheets at the beginning on her own rather than just wasting a few months jumping through hoops. They told her that I should be enriching myself as a fast student by helping the slow ones. She was also furious that the backbone of their gifted education system was creating a pool of bored unpaid child labor as teachers' assistants.

I do find it hard to believe that traditional schooling can be so inadequate for most students. The answer that gets shouted about every election cycle is thatschools need more money, but I can only believe that to a certain point. In my town, $21000 (almost half of the average household income in the USA) is spent per pupil per year on public schooling and we are definitely not getting our money's worth. Not only is the amount of money staggering- if every family had two kids in public school there would effectively be no income- but the schools are so poor that many students are put in private, parochial, or charter schools.

I don't know how much most homeschool families spend per pupil on curriculum, books, and outings, but it can't be more than a quarter of what public school costs. Granted, everyone pays for public schools whether their children attend or not, or even if they don't have children, but with the way that so many states are effectively bankrupt homeschooling should be commended for its efficiency.

Miss Tatiana said...

As an educator, I've been able to see first hand where teachers are failing students and I don't think all of the blame should be put on to our shoulders.

I come from a situation where most of the families are rich--- however, some parents do not the first thing about parenting or what's best for the child. For example, a student who isn't very bright is pushed into playing hockey. Hockey takes up most of his time after school and weekends. He's exhausted, but because his parents won't let him stop playing and because he's failing at school, the parents set him up with a tutor. So twice a week, he's forced to wake up even earlier than usual and go to tutoring before school. Clearly in this case its not the teachers who are hurting the student, its the parents who feel that their child must succeed at school and at sports, without realizing that their child needs rest and time to develop his skills at his own pace.

Other pressures come from the government, some nations require that certain curriculum be followed and completed within the school year. Often too much is planned and when a teacher is forced to teach in a group of 30+ students, those who are greatly lacking in skills will fall behind. I know most educators are more than willing to stay after and provide extra help-- I have also realized that most students do not want to ask for this help.

Tutoring is prevalent not because of poor teaching, but because of various factors from parents, to school systems, to students themselves.

Homeschooling has its problems too--- I know of some situations where the child has fallen so behind because parents were not readily prepared to play the role as educator.

I think the bottom line is what will benefit the child the most--- sometimes it'll be the interactions of a public/private school, or sometimes at home with a parent.

jiabaoyu said...

When I was growing up, there was no 'mafia' to teach failing kids....kids did poorly because parents failed in their duties to instill a respect for education.

I've been in school for a very long time and I've been through a few school systems. Most teachers were adequate, some were great, a few were bad. But generally, when a kid is failing, it was because they didn't care enough about the subject and/or their parents didn't care that their kids were failing.

I believe that those experiencing learning difficulties were in the minority. Most teachers tried to teach. They may not be the best, but I don't think homeschooling parents would have done a better job. Just from personal experience, loving your kid does not make you a better teacher.

I guess I have a hard time believing that there is a 'conspiracy' of deliberate bad teaching---sounds about as far fetched as saying the moon landing was a CIA fake-out. In the US, many school districts are required to bring kids up to a certain level in academic tests in order to continue to receive funding and accreditation, and in many middle class school districts, it is a point of pride to have high exam scores.

Anonymous said...

I just need to repeat: there is NO conspiracy in Israel to teach students badly. A teacher whose classes repeatedly fail will be reprimanded, and won't get any 'good' classes the following year.

It's very easy to throw mafia theories about. I've taught in Israeli high schools for almost twenty years, in several different schools in different cities. True, many teachers supplement their income by tutoring. But they don't teach badly to create more tutoring income for the next guy over! (Endangering their own job security at the same time). I mean, really!

Anonymous said...

I believe that the idea that education is something "to be done to a person" is where we fail our children.

True learning stems out of personal motivation, and motivation cannot be taught in the school system, it must be experienced within each person as they encounter the realities of life.

Though I don't believe that any teachers on the ground level of the education system are part of a conspiracy to hold children back, I do believe there's a much larger intent by strong-minded globalist thinkers to "dumb down" most of the culture.

Have you read "Dumbing Us Down", "The Underground History of American Education", or "Weapons of Mass Instruction" by John Taylor Gatto? These were excellent and eye opening books for me.

Thanks so much for your wonderful and thoughtful blog!