OECD Adult Skills’ test shows the deep social gaps in Israel

A test initiated by the OECD and published at the end of June 2016 revealed the underbelly of Israeli society. This test has uncovered two facts that should cause serious...

A test initiated by the OECD and published at the end of June 2016 revealed the underbelly of Israeli society. This test has uncovered two facts that should cause serious worry. The first is long-known: Israeli society is extremely polarized with a minority (30%) whose capacities equal those of developed industrialized countries, and a majority that has difficulty orienting itself in the world of computers, mathematics and text-literacy, skills without which one can hardly fit in the modern employment market. This majority, encompassing about70% of adults in Israel, includes residents of the periphery, Arabs, Haredi (ultra-orthodox religious) Jews, and anyone else born in impoverished, uneducated families. Furthermore, the study shows a direct link between socio-economic and cultural background and one’s chances to move up the social scale – namely, anyone born of uneducated parents is highly likely to belong to this group as well.

The international Survey of Adult Skills PIAAC* held simultaneously in about 30 states in 2014-2015 took place in Israel conjointly with the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics and the National Authority for Education Evaluation. Heading the Israeli steering committee of the program was Dr. Ido Gal of the Human Services Department at Haifa University. The survey included interviews for a representative sample of 5530 Israeli citizens (they were tested in their mother-tongues – Hebrew, Arabic and Russian – at home). The interviewees were asked to solve basic math problems, read texts and do things that would show general knowhow of the internet.

The survey revealed a relatively small group whose results were far better than average, and on the other hand a large group lowering the averages. This group was defined as having inferior ability – namely people with minimal computer familiarity and a lack of basic knowledge in reading information and communicating by computer. Results showed that 36.7% of the participants in Israel were placed in this category – in addition to another 33% belonging to category B: with a basic level of computer usage, and only simple data analysis and problem solving. The combination of these two groups shows that 70% of adults in Israel are on a lower level of function than is necessary for successful integration in the modern employment market.

Strong forces on the market prevent change

Many tongues have clicked over the need to close the gaps and seek more equality in Israel. One cannot however ignore the fact that very strong forces in Israel with influential ties with government – all Israeli governments past and present – have an obvious interest in maintaining an army of uneducated, cheap and weakened workers. The lack of awareness and access to knowledge among laborers in the fields of construction, industry, caregiving with the elderly, transport, security, agriculture and many others, enables their employers to hold these sectors at minimal wage rates. Thus, for example, whenever the government faces the issue of permitting the import of agricultural workers, its members forget all the recommendations and resolutions to lower the quota of migrant workers in order to employ local workers, and the agricultural lobby pressures the ministers to approve another deal and employ another 25,000 workers from Thailand.

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About Assaf Adiv