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 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” (p. 82). Inclusion which implies “all student populations” (p.83) 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” (p. 82).
Special education needs
Based on the definition of disability in the Special Education Law (1988) (amended in 2002), children have special educational needs due to a “developmental impairment” that limits their adaptive behavior. The law used the term “exceptional children” in contrast with the term “children with special educational needs”. A child with special educational needs in Israel is defined in the following way: “ 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.” (Special Education Law 2018).
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 schools.
Inclusion of students with disabilities (aged between 3 and 21) in regular education in Israel became mandatory in 2002 following special education legislation amendment. The Special Education Law amendment (2002) recommends integrating pupils with special needs into regular classrooms as much as possible to minimize segregation and exclusion. The Special Education Law (1988) provides for integration through teaching and systematic learning and treatment (e.g. physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy) for the purpose of becoming part of that society and being integrated into the world of work. A multidisciplinary team at the special school develops an individualized education plan (IEP) that focuses on the characteristics of each child. In 2002, an amendment to this Law in 2018 gave parents the right to choose the type of setting in which a student who is eligible for special education services can learn (regular classes, special education classes in a regular school or special education schools) and emphasized the mandate to include children with special educational 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 increase the inclusion of children with special educational needs in regulars settings. This plan is guided by three main principles: differentiation in line with individual needs; placement in a regular educational facility; organizational flexibility in service delivery. In this regard, a gradual shift has occurred in the school organization in Israel.
Inclusive classes have been implemented, where 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 centers have been established in each community to provide distinct educational services to the learners with special educational needs in regular classrooms. These centers, called MATIA - Local Support and Resource Centers or LSRCs, bring the services into the classrooms rather than removing children from the class to visit the centers. They also provide assessment, support, interventions and treatments by special education teachers, occupational therapists, physical therapists, communication clinicians, art/ movement/dance therapists, etc. They also allocate resources according to specific local needs.
Israel has no written Constitution but a system of basic laws and rights enjoying semi-constitutional status. In 1961, it ratified the Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960).
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 adolescents up to age 18 who has not completed elementary education and is free of charge from age 5. Amendments to this law include a prohibition against discrimination on the grounds of ethnic origin, in acceptance, placement, and advancement of pupils, as well as a prohibition against punishing pupils for actions or omissions on the part of their parents. The Pupils’ Rights Law (2000) sets that every child and adolescent in the State of Israel is “entitled to education in accordance to the provision 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 in 2012 and amended the Special Education Law (1998) 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 rulling was regarding 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 of establishing a fund for the inclusive education of those children.
In case of illness, the Law governing free education for sick children of 2000 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 will take medical constraints and the curriculum studied prior to the illness into account. With the approval of the Minister for Health, the Minister for Education will issue orders regarding the establishment, organization and operating procedures for hospital schools.”
Israel ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) in 1991. In 1998 the Knesset (parliament of Israel) decided to set up the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women which is mandated, among others, 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, 9 in the Jewish sector), “Sharsheret” (based on mentoring upper secondary school girls work with younger girls in lower secondary schools and “Masculinity programme” (on gender stereotypes, social constructs, models of masculinity in three Jerusalem schools in 2018). Other programmes target advancing female students in mathematics, technology and sciences, such as “Latet Chamesh programme”, “Breaking the Glass ceiling” and “Women Scientists of the Future”. The Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women is currently targeting 217 supervisors within higher education institutions in order to intensify and promote training programmes to increase their effectiveness. The 2007 amendment to the Pupil’s Rights law extended the prohibition of discrimination to reasons of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Concerning early marriage, the Amendment 6 to the Age of Marriage Law has raised the minimum age for marriage from 17 to 18 years of age.
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 also among native Hebrew speakers. Arabic language has been an official language for long but in July 2018 a new Jewish Nation-State Law took away such its official language status modifying it to one with "special status", mentioning however that such 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 their adaptation to different sectors of the population: Official Jewish, Official Religious, Arab and Druze.
The Home Grown programme invites all parents and all students of Ethiopian origin to four meetings per year offering hands-on activity working together, along with dialogue, and suggestions they can implement at home based on their experience. In addition, the One-Stop-Centres project (2012) aims to increase access to vocational education and training and employment in the Arab and Jewish-ultra-orthodox communities. In this regard, the government has opened 20 centers in towns with a high density of Arab and ultra-orthodox population to attract 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 Hebrew language.
The Work programme for 2018-2019 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 day in schools and the school year (camps and after-school activities). In 2014/15, different programmes have increased 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, who rank in the top 3 percent 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 labor 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 for 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 UN CRPD.
The responsibility for the wellbeing 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.
NGOs, like the Jewish Agency, the Association for the Advancement of Education, the Israel Broadcasting Authority, community centers, 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 State Education Law 1953 and related regulations, the Minister of Education can approve, at the request of 75 percent of the parents, an additional institutional curriculum comprising up to 25 percent 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, which 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, and industry. In secondary education some hours are devoted to human rights. In addition, the subject of tolerance will be integrated into the curricula and lesson plans as part of the central theme of “Maintaining unity, maintaining uniqueness”.
Learning materials and ICTs
The Regional Support Centers are responsible for the provision of special education resources to their areas. Governmental distribution of resources (i.e. weekly hours teaching by various teachers and therapists; hours for assessment procedures; specialized materials or curricula; teacher training programmes, etc.) to these support centers 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 and students with special educational 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" for which integration of information technology improves diverse aspects of teaching, including teacher’s skills and teaching practices of adaptive learning. At last, the NGO Beit Issie Shapiro has developed different 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, 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 gender (p. 91). 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 in 2018 a new course on Special and Inclusive Education. 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) have 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 Work programme for 2018-2019 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, academia-classrooms, 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 Voluntary National Review (VNR) published in 2019 “Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals”, the Government of Israel identified key indicators linked to inclusive education such as parity indices (female/male, rural/urban/rural, bottom/top wealth quintile) in schools and others indicators such as the disability status, the number of students in conflict-affected areas. The VNR also monitors the proportion of youths who are not in education, employment or training.