Inclusive education ‘means that students with special needs are placed (when possible) in ‘regular schools’ instead of segregated institutions, in order to empower the child with special needs to be an active part of society. It also teaches the ‘regular students’ to understand what the needs of their peers with different impairments are; it fosters equality, respect and solidarity.’ Similarly, inclusion and integration, according to the 2019 voluntary national review on Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, are viewed as ‘the best way to advance special needs learners in regular education, while applying psycho-pedagogic principles suited to the needs of each student.’ Inclusion, which extends to ‘all student populations’, aims at advancing students in a heterogeneous class, ‘while expanding the ability to embrace them and provide a variety of solutions suited to each learner.’
Special education needs
Based on the definition of disability in the 1988 Special Education Law, amended in 2002, children have special education needs when a ‘developmental impairment’ limits their adaptive behavior. The law used the term ‘exceptional children’ in contrast with the term ‘children with special educational needs’. The 2018 Special Education Law defines a child with special education needs in Israel as ‘person of the ages 3-21, that has one of the disabilities listed, which limits his/her function in one of the function levels detailed.’
As stated by the Israeli government (2013): ‘Children with physical, mental, or learning disabilities are placed in appropriate frameworks according to the nature of their disability, to help them eventually achieve maximum integration into the social and vocational life of their community. Thus, some are taken care of in special settings, while others attend regular schools, where they may be assigned to self-contained groups or to mainstream classes with supplementary tutoring.’
Learners with disabilities can attend regular class, special education class in a regular school or special education school.
Inclusion of students with disabilities (aged between 3 and 21) in regular education in Israel became mandatory in 2002 following a special education legislation amendment. The 2002 Special Education Law amendment recommends integrating pupils with special needs into regular classrooms as much as possible to minimize segregation and exclusion. The 1988 Special Education Law provides for integration through teaching and systematic learning and treatment (e.g. physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy) to support becoming part of the society and being integrated into the world of work. A multidisciplinary team at special schools develops an individualized education plan that focuses on the characteristics of each child. A 2018 amendment to the Special Education Law gave parents the right to choose the type of learning setting (regular class, special education class in a regular school or special education school) for a student who is eligible for special education services and emphasized the mandate to include children with special education needs into general education.
At the same time, a ‘plan for inclusion’ aims to reduce the number of students in special classes and special schools and to increase the inclusion of children with special education needs in regular settings. This plan is guided by three main principles: differentiation in line with individual needs, placement in a regular educational facility and organizational flexibility in service delivery. In this regard, a gradual shift has occurred in school organization in Israel.
Inclusive classes have been implemented in which students spend their days partly in regular classes and partly in special classes. In some cases, students with and without special needs study together and are taught by both a regular and a special education teacher. In parallel, special support or resource centres have been established in each community to provide distinct educational services to the learners with special education needs in regular classrooms. These centres, called MATIA – Local Support and Resource Centers or LSRCs – bring the services into classrooms rather than removing children from the class to visit the centres. They also provide assessment, support, interventions and treatments by special education teachers, occupational therapists, physical therapists, communication clinicians, art/movement/dance therapists, etc., and they allocate resources according to specific local needs.
The 1949 Compulsory Education Law, amended in 2007, states that education at a recognized educational institution is compulsory for every child between age 3 and 15 and for adolescents up to age 18 who have not completed elementary education and is free of charge from age 5. Amendments to this law include a prohibition against discrimination in acceptance, placement and advancement of pupils on the grounds of ethnic origin, as well as a prohibition against punishing pupils for actions or omissions on the part of their parents. The 2000 Pupils’ Rights Law establishes that every child and adolescent in the State of Israel is ‘entitled to education in accordance with the provisions of any law’. It prohibits discrimination ‘against a pupil for sectarian reasons, for socio-economic reasons, for reasons of sexual orientation or gender identity or for reasons of political orientation, whether of the child or of his parents’.
Israel ratified the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2012 and amended the 1998 Special Education Law in 2002 to ensure the integration of pupils with disabilities into regular classrooms in compliance with its provisions. Following a recent Supreme Court ruling regarding Down syndrome, regular schools are obliged to include pupils with disabilities in regular schools, with the help of assisting teachers (the ruling was specific to Down syndrome, but the implementation was for all children with disabilities). In 2018, Amendment 11 of the Special Education Law was adopted, allocating extra funds to special services for the education of children with disabilities in separate settings, contrary to the Ministry of Education’s previous recommendation to establish a fund for the inclusive education of those children.
In case of illness, a 2000 law governing free education for sick children requires the Minister of Education to establish a scheme to provide education for children who are hospitalized or unable to attend school for over 21 consecutive days due to illness. The scheme must take into account medical constraints and the curriculum studied prior to the illness. With the approval of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education issues orders regarding the establishment, organization and operating procedures for hospital schools.
Israel ratified the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1991. In 1998 the Knesset (parliament of Israel) established the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women, which is mandated to provide gender assessment for proposed legislation. In 2002 the Ministry of Education established the Department for Gender Equality to promote and raise awareness of gender equality over the whole education trajectory, while the Council for Higher Education promotes gender equality in universities and colleges.
Different programmes are also designed to promote gender equity in education, such as Shaveh Dibur (for grades 5, 6, 8 and 9 in the Jewish sector), Sharsheret (in which upper secondary school girls mentor younger girls in lower secondary schools) and the Masculinity programme (focused on gender stereotypes, social constructs and models of masculinity and piloted in three Jerusalem schools in 2018). Other programmes target advancing female students in mathematics, technology and sciences, such as the Latet Chamesh programme, Breaking the Glass Ceiling and Women Scientists of the Future. As of 2019, the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women was targeting 217 supervisors within higher education institutions in order to intensify and promote training programmes to increase their effectiveness. A 2007 amendment to the Pupils’ Rights Law extended the prohibition of discrimination to reasons of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Concerning early marriage, Amendment 6 of the Age of Marriage Law raised the minimum age for marriage from 17 to 18.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
Since 1997, the language policy of the Ministry of Education has aimed at encouraging the study of mother tongue and foreign languages. It aims at increasing the number of compulsory years of study of Arabic or French for Hebrew speakers and encouraging the study of Russian and other immigrant languages, including among native Hebrew speakers. Arabic has long been an official language but in July 2018 a new Jewish Nation-State Law took away its official language status, modifying it to a language with ‘special status’, although it mentioned that the change ‘does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect’.
The division A for pedagogical development of the administration is responsible for planning and developing curricula and adapting them to different sectors of the population, including Official Jewish, Official Religious, Arab and Druze.
The Home Grown programme invites all parents and students of Ethiopian origin to four meetings per year offering hands-on activities, dialogue and suggestions they can implement at home based on their experience. In addition, the One-Stop-Centres project (2012) was set up to increase access to vocational education and training and employment in the Arab and Jewish-ultra-orthodox communities. In this regard, the government opened 20 centres in towns with a high density of Arab and ultra-orthodox residents to attract a local population and increase participation in the labor market. Finally, the Class Counselor programme, initiated in 2018 in 245 primary schools, provides assistance to students with difficulties, particularly in the Hebrew language.
The 2018–19 work programme identifies the main actions to provide equal opportunities to students in disadvantaged areas, such as distributing financial and pedagogical resources in classes K1 to K9 through the Merom programme, increasing investments in the younger ages, reducing the number of children in the classroom, and prolonging the school day and the school year (with camps and after-school activities). In 2014/15, programmes were implemented to increase the allocation of special care hours for the disadvantaged population in primary and lower secondary schools, mainly new immigrants, Arab-speaking minorities and students of low socio-economic status.
The Department for Gifted and Outstanding Students implemented a programme for excellence starting from grade 1. Gifted children, defined as those who rank in the top 3% of their class and have passed qualifying tests, participate in enrichment programmes, ranging from full-time special schools to extracurricular courses.
Second chance programmes are being offered to students who did not graduate from upper secondary education. Technological education and training are offered during military service to ease the transition to the labour market.
The Ministry of Education is responsible for education at all levels in state and state religious schools. The Adviser on the Status of Women under the Prime Minister’s Office formulates policies concerning the status of women in Israel, including educational dimensions. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is also responsible for youth development, which includes educational facilities and programmes. A pedagogic department designs curriculum adapted to specific populations.
The Unit for Gender Equality in the Ministry of Education is responsible for ensuring the adoption of gender-oriented policies and works in cooperation with the Inspectorates of Mathematics, Science and Technology, Physics and Computer Science to train teachers in gender-sensitive teaching.
A Committee established by law and appointed by the Ministry of Education determines the eligibility of students with disabilities for special education programmes and facilities. The Israel Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities is also actively involved in the implementation and monitoring of the CRPD.
The responsibility for the well-being of exceptional children who have physical, mental or learning disabilities is shared by health care personnel, psychologists, social workers and special education professionals, as well as by the family and various community support groups.
Non-government organizations, like the Jewish Agency, the Association for the Advancement of Education, the Israel Broadcasting Authoity, community centres, teacher unions, women’s organizations, the National Parents Committee, pupils’ councils and student unions, also contribute to implementing inclusive education in Israel. Access Israel aims to share its experience and knowledge with partner countries worldwide on accessibility and inclusion of persons with disabilities.
Different measures have been implemented to create inclusive learning environments. In Tel Aviv, the Bikurim School (the ‘inclusive school’) has reduced the number of classrooms and has set up common areas in each pair of classrooms that allow for out-of-class activities. Students learn measurements and sign language through play thanks to innovative facilities. Several programmes aim to reduce inequalities among the different minority groups at primary and secondary levels.
According to the 1953 State Education Law and related regulations, the Minister of Education can approve, at the request of 75% of the parents, an additional institutional curriculum comprising up to 25% of the existing curriculum, or an additional curriculum financed by the local authority or by the parents. Core disciplines appear consistently in curricula throughout the system, but each school may choose from a wide range of study units and teaching materials, provided by the Ministry of Education, to best suit the needs of the students. In addition, each year a special topic of national importance is studied, such as democratic values, the Hebrew language, immigration, Jerusalem, peace or industry. In secondary education some time is devoted to human rights. In addition, the subject of tolerance was to be integrated into the curricula and lesson plans in 2019–20 as part of the central theme of ‘Maintaining unity, maintaining uniqueness’. The curriculum also adjusts to include issues of racism, tolerance and human rights, often around special days, including the International Day for the Elimination of Racism, International Day for Tolerance and Human and Civil Rights Day.
Learning materials and ICT
Regional support centres are responsible for the provision of special education resources in their areas. Governmental distribution of resources (i.e. weekly teaching hours by various teachers and therapists, hours for assessment procedures, specialized materials or curricula, teacher training programmes, etc.) to these support centres is determined by the number of students served and by their needs in accordance with diagnostic assessment.
ICT for accessibility and inclusion for early school leavers and migrants as well as for students with special education needs is a high priority in Israel. In this regard, the framework for the national digital education policy is the programme Adapting the Educational System to the 21st Century, which is aimed at integration of information technology to improve diverse aspects of teaching, including teachers’ skills and teaching practices for adaptive learning. Finally, the non-government organization Beit Issie Shapiro has developed applications for people with disabilities, including Issie Sign, an app for learning how to sign basic vocabulary, based on Israeli Sign Language. These applications are used by educators and therapists in Israel
In-service training topics include education and equality of opportunity, the right to be heard and to be involved, the right to privacy, the duty to report, the duty of confidentiality, education workers’ responsibility for damages, child victims’ rights and the interrogation of children, and the rights of LGBT students in educational frameworks. Gender workshops are also run in all parts of the State and address issues like gender stereotypes and relations between genders. The Israeli Institute for School Leadership oversees initial and ongoing training of school leaders. It also develops new tools and maintains school leaders’ networks to assist them in their work.
Israel's Agency for International Development Cooperation in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched a course on Special and Inclusive Education in 2018. This course introduces teachers and school personnel to different theories, approaches and technologies in inclusive education, such as sexual education for people with special needs. It aims to present the different activities and programmes that different schools (inclusive and segregated) offer for students with special needs and to provide tools and guidelines for curricular development. It also enables participants to choose the methods and tools suitable to the needs of their environments. Similarly, the 2018–19 work programme identifies key actions to promote teacher training in inclusive education, including strengthening the teacher training institutions (raising entrance level requirements, merging colleges, setting paths for career development); accompanying new teachers and evaluating them; and adapting conceptions of professional development, guidance and evaluation of teachers and principals and their implementation.
The Central Bureau of Statistics publishes periodic reports and the Statistical Abstract of Israel. Educational statistics are included in the Statistical Abstract of Israel and special periodic publications.
Israel has published regular education monitoring reports including Selected issues – Committee on Education, Culture and Sport (in Hebrew). In the 2019 voluntary national review, the Government of Israel identified key indicators linked to inclusive education such as parity indices (female/male, rural/urban, bottom/top wealth quintile) in schools and other indicators such as disability status and the number of students in conflict-affected areas. The voluntary national review also monitors the proportion of youths who are not in education, employment or training.