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Primary school around the world: Israel

Israel cityscape
Long holidays, religious festivals and a focus on physical education: we take a look at what it’s like to be a primary school pupil in Israel.

Amanda lives in Israel with her husband and three children. Her youngest daughter is 9.

Here in Israel, the school system is very free. Alongside academic subjects, there’s an emphasis on children learning values like how to be a good person, and how to care about those around them and the society that they live in. They’re taught about volunteering and the children go into the community to visit the elderly, clean up the neighbourhood and generally make the area a nicer place to be.

Children start school here at six, and stay at primary school until they move to junior high at 12. My youngest was at a kindergarten that feeds into the school, so they organised a few morning visits to help the children settle in.

'We pay extra for religious education'

The school system here is split between religious and non-religious schools. My children go to a non-religious school, which means they don’t get much Jewish education, so we pay a small amount to increase the amount of religious teaching they get. We also pay extra for English lessons.

My daughter is in the fourth grade, with about 25 children in her class. They wear a school sweatshirt and t-shirt as their uniform. Her normal school day runs from 8.10am until 1.45pm, but once a week she finishes at 2.30pm, and once at 11.45am. My oldest two have a different schedule every day.

School holidays are also unpredictable; I have no idea how many weeks’ holiday my kids get each year! Our holidays coincide with Jewish holidays, so sometimes we have two months off in the summer, go back to school for two days and then break up for another two weeks.

'PE is training for the army'

Even in non-religious schools, children learn a lot about the Jewish religion and culture; it’s built into the system. Religious festivals are celebrated with parties and ceremonies that the whole school watches and parents are invited to.

Another big difference between primary school in Israel and the UK is the approach to PE. It’s one of the things I get most upset about. The children seem to spend an awful lot of time running round the yard; I’m told it’s training for the army. They sometimes play volleyball, but they don’t do any team sports on a regular basis. However, sport is my daughter's favourite subject.

There are no school dinners here, and no facilities to heat up food, so my kids take a cold packed lunch: sandwiches, fruit, chopped vegetables and salad. Sometimes they don’t even have lunch at school if it’s a day when they finish early. 

'Children call their teachers by their first names'

As parents, we’re encouraged to be involved in school life. You can be on your class committee, or represent your class on the school committee. You can accompany school outings, volunteer to organise various activities and even go in and teach the class. The school is open to us to go in whenever we want.

Unlike in the UK, there are no formal exams in primary school, and very little homework (although my children still think they get a lot!). There are no pressures around academic achievement.

In fact, the atmosphere is more casual over all, which sums up Israel as a country. There’s not the same separation between students and staff, and children call their teachers by their first names. It has its advantages and disadvantages; I’d like to see children having more respect for their elders, but you can’t argue with the fact that the school system here produces confident, well-rounded children.

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