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Israel, or its more official name, the State of Israel, is a parliamentary republic in the Middle East portion of Asia, located along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. A small country with a geographic land area of just over 8,000 square miles, Israel shares borders with Lebanon in the north, Syria in the northeast, Jordan and the West Bank in the east, Egypt and the Gaza Strip in the southwest, and the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea to the south. Israel is a Jewish and democratic state, as outlined in its Basic Laws, and is the world’s only Jewish-majority state. The capital and largest city in the country is Jerusalem, while Tel Aviv is its major financial center.
A resolution adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in November 1947 paved the way for Israel’s establishment as a Jewish state, independent from the British Mandate for Palestine. This partition of Palestine, which became official on May 14, 1948, did not sit well with neighboring Arab countries, many of whom invaded Israel the following day in support of Palestinian Arabs. Since then Israel has fought many wars with its Arab neighbors, during which it has occupied the West Bank, Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights. While in recent years Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, disputes over the border of the West Bank continue to this day with Palestine, leading to an ongoing conflict with that country that has yet to be resolved.
Israel has a permanent population of nearly 7.9 million, of whom 80 percent are ethnic Jews. The remainder of the population is made up mostly of Arab citizens of Israel, and over the last decade there have also been many migrant workers who have entered the country (some illegally), from places such as Romania, Thailand, China, and South America, and nearly 34,000 African refugees have also settled here. Both Hebrew and Arabic are considered official languages in Israel, although Hebrew is spoken by the majority of people and used for all official matters of the state, including education in Jewish schools. Arabic is spoken most commonly among the Arab minority in the country. English, the language of many television programs in Israel, is also taught as a second language early on in the Israeli school system. As a result, many citizens communicate reasonably well in that language.
The territories that now comprise Israel and Palestine make up a major part of the Holy Land, a region particularly important to all Abrahamic religions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Naturally, the majority of the population in Israel practices Judaism, but the exact type varies widely. Traditional Jews account for 55 percent of Israel’s Judaism practitioners, while secular Jews (20%), Religious Zionists (17%) and Haredi Jews (8%) account for the remainder. Islam is the preferred religion of the Arab minority in the country, accounting for nearly 16 percent of the total population.
Education in Israel
Education in Israel is overseen by the national government and is a very high priority of the state. Unlike the education systems in other developed countries, where 9 years of compulsory education is the average, in Israel, school is free and compulsory for 15 years, for students between the ages of 3 and 18. A State Education Law, passed in 1953, led to the establishment of five distinct types of schools: state secular, state religious, ultra orthodox, communal settlement schools and Arab schools, although today the majority of Jewish students attend the state secular school, while the Arab minority attends Arab schools, where the primary instruction is in Arabic, rather than Hebrew.
Education in Israel is divided between five distinct levels: preschool, primary education, middle school, high school and tertiary or higher education. Preschool helps prepare students aged 3-5 to enter primary school, and focuses on socialization and early reading and writing skills. Primary schools (grades 1-6), middle schools (grades 7-9) and high schools (grades 10-12) offer a broad curriculum that includes core subjects such as mathematics, Bible, Hebrew (or Arabic) language and literature, English, history and civics. Following completion of the 12th grade, all Israeli students must take a matriculation examination called the “Bagrut,” which measures a student’s proficiency in each of the above-named areas. In 2011, nearly 60 percent of all Israeli students earned a matriculation certificate, which is required for admittance into Israeli universities.
Higher education in Israeli is provided by universities, some of which are ranked very high among the world’s top 100 universities. Eligible students can earn undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate degrees in most major academic fields. Currently, an estimated 20 percent of Israel’s population holds an academic degree, ranking the country third in the world in the number of academic degrees per capita.