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Getting Schooled - Understanding the Israeli Education System

One year after we moved to Israel, Dalya, my then 6 year old, started her first day of first grade (Kita Aleph /'כיתה א). She was so excited to begin learning like a "big kid." We had her school supplies organized, a brand new knapsack packed and clean new shoes. She dressed in her new 'uniform' shirt (which essentially is just a solid color shirt of any color with the school name and symbol printed on it in the corner) and was ready to go. For the first day, she chose a bright and cheerful hot pink shirt. I remember thinking to myself, "wow Rayla, after one year of being new immigrants, you finally know what you are doing. Your kid is completely prepared."

Fast forward to 2 hours after drop off. The teacher sent the parents pictures from the first day of school ceremony (Tekes / טקס). Dalya was EXTREMELY easy to spot. How you ask? Well, apparently, all Israeli parents know that on the first day of school everyone wears white shirts. Clearly, I did not get the Israeli parent memo. There, in the picture sent to the whole class, was a sea of clean white shirted kids with one little blonde hot pink kid who basically had "Olah Chadasha" stamped across her forehead.

First day of school 2015 vs 2017

There are so many things I wish I knew about the Israeli education system 6 years ago (besides for always dressing your kids in white shirts on the first day of school). So many small things would have helped my transition and my kids' transition to the Israeli education system be significantly easier.

Anyone making Aliyah or thinking about making Aliyah with kids probably has schooling pretty up there on their list of priorities when choosing the right location to land. While I cannot help you pick the right school for your kids because, overall, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, what I can share with you is some of the information I picked up along the way, information I gathered from many of my olim friends and information I researched from various websites, including nefesh b'nefesh. Special thank you to Ellie Somogyi for her input and help with this.

The basics of the Israeli school system is as follows. Below are the 5 main types of public schools in Israel:

  1. Mamlachti (ממלכתי) - State secular schools

  2. Mamlachti Dati (ממלכתי דתי) - State religious schools

  3. Chardal or mamlachti dati torani - (חרד"ל or ממלכתי דתי תורני) - state religious zionist schools with additional hours for torah study. Note that not all Mamlachti Dati Torani schools are considered Chardal. Each school will vary depending on where it is located.

  4. Charedi or Chinuch Atmaei (חרדי or חינוך עצמאי) - independent religious schools

  5. Arab schools - focusing on Arab language and culture

In addition, there are private schools available and special education schools. There is a uniform required curriculum that is mandated by the government across all schools (except Charedi). The difference is only how the schools choose to focus the additional education hours above and beyond the basic curriculum requirements. For example, a mamlachti dati torani school will include additional hours of torah and religious education.

A couple of random points I've collected about schooling in Israel:

School Logistics

  1. School begins September 1 (unless it falls on Shabbat, then it begins September 2) and ends June 30 (or June 20 for middle/high school).

  2. The school week is from Sunday through Friday (at least up to grade 6) and Sunday through Thursday (or Friday) for older grades.

  3. School is mandatory and free (unless choosing a private school) from kindergarten to Grade 12.

  4. Generally to register for a public school, you need to do it through the education department (מחלקת חינוך) at the municipality of the city you live in with the identification number (tehudat zehut / תעודת זהות), rental contract and aliyah certificate (Teudat Oleh / תעודה עולה).

  5. Many schools have a book rental program instead of buying all the required books on a yearly basis (השאלת ספרים).

  6. Cut off dates used to be based on Hebrew birthdays, not English. Specifically, the children in any particular school year generally have birthdays from א' טבת to ל' כסלו. This rule changed in 2013 and now are based on English birthdays (i.e., Jan 1 - Dec 31).

  7. School, on average, ends between 12:45 pm to 3:00 pm depending on the age of the child and the location of the school. For grades up to and including 4th grade, there is an optional afternoon program you can register your child for (צהרון). The cost of this program varies depending on the location (for example, Givat Shmuel is more expensive than Ramat Beit Shemesh).

  8. Kids bring a small lunch called aruchat eser, literally translated as the the 10 o'clock meal which they usually eat at... you guessed it - 10am! The meal usually consists of a small sandwich and fruit. Kids in the afternoon program usually get a hot meat meal at around 2pm.

  9. Primary school is from grades 1-6, middle school from grades 7-9 and high school from grades 10-12.

  10. When a child moves to middle school, you can choose to send your child to a public school outside of the city. You would need to submit a request to the Education Department of the municipality to give the final approval. If they give the approval, this would allow the city to send the education funds from the Education Ministry to the other city to cover your child's tuition costs.

  11. If your child needs special services, e.g., if they have trouble spelling, reading or taking tests, you can have them evaluated. If approved, they can be given certain special permissions known as הקלות, e.g., allowed to use a laptop to type notes rather than writing, extra time on tests, etc. In this case, speak to the advisor / guidance counselor for the school/ grade (the יועצת).

  12. The concept of camp in Israel is very different than the type of day camps that exist in America. I won't go into too many details on this but, essentially, you can sign your children up for a camp that is through the municipality and is similar to the concept of tzaharon or you can choose to sign up at various specialty camps. Most camps end by the second week of August and childcare options for the last 2 weeks of August are extremely limited. Unlike in the U.S., camps also generally do not include swimming.

School Culture

  1. There are A LOT of white shirt days (especially for the religious schools). Always buy extra white shirts.

  2. Teachers are often called by their first names which is still strange for me to this day.

  3. The homeroom teacher (מחנך / מחנכת) plays a key role in your child's education for the year and is the person to speak to regarding issues, including with respect to other teachers / special services, etc.

  4. Generally, each class selects a few parents (2-3) to be in the class parents' committee (Va'ad kitah / ועד כיתה). They usually assist in arranging the class events. There are also 1-2 parents selected for the Vaadat Horim (ועדת הורים) which is the committee of parents who act as liaisons between the school and the parents.

  5. Whatsapp is the most used tool with respect to passing along information. Every class will usually have a separate one. Be prepared to be slightly overwhelmed by the constant whatsapps in Hebrew. Become friends with one of the parents to ask them to help you with summarizing the information. They are often super willing to help.

  6. You will have less control over things in a public school than in a private school. Do not expect the education system to be the same as when you were paying $12,000 a year per kid.

Educational considerations

  1. In High School, kids take bagrut (בגרות) or the matriculation exams (basically the Israeli equivalent to the American SAT exams). It is not uncommon for students to retake exams after military service if they did not pass.

  2. New Olim may be able to receive extra ulpan hours for Olim. If you would like to find out more you can speak with the olim department of the Ministry of education.

Ganim / Pre-schools

  1. Pre-school / Ganim generally have a Ganenet who is a preschool teacher certified in early childhood education and a Sayaat or an assistant.

  2. If you are placed in a gan you are unhappy with, you can appeal to switch ganim. As I said in my last post - "no" is usually just the start of the conversation here.

  3. Public ganim (or pre-schools) generally include 3 year old preschool (תרום תרום חובה), four year old preschool (תרום חובה), and 5 year old gan (גן חובה).

  4. For private ganim, under the supervision of TAMAT (e.g., EMUNAH, WIZO, etc.), if both parents work and dont make over a certain threshold of income, you may be able to qualify for a serious discount on tuition. This depends on various factors including number of children, location, etc.

Other Tips

  1. There is a great list of English translations for school related words, including school supplies at this link on the nefesh b'nefesh website.

  2. In most stores in Israel, they offer a membership (moadon / מועדון) which provides you with discounts throughout the year and special discounts in the birthday month you sign up for. When signing up at the local school supply store I used my daughter's August birthday and now I get a 25% discount on all the school supplies I buy before school.

I am sure over the last 6 years I have been educated on a few other things (pun intended ;)) but this is all I can think of right now. If you have any additional tips, please feel free to comment or share with me.

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