Parents who can afford to supplement their child's education have long resorted to tutoring to help their children excel in schools, but for many Israeli parents, it's now becoming a necessity. An increasing number of families now find themselves in the same situation as Natan, who had to hire a tutor for his A-student daughter Dafna because the materials required on matriculation exams administered by top universities weren't going to be covered by her school.
Haaretz reports that as many as 40% of Israeli students now resort to private help outside of school in at least one of the core subject areas. Israel considers Hebrew, English, mathematics and science/technology to be "core" subjects, with the majority of students seeking out assistance in mathematics or tech/science.
The Education Ministry, which is the source of the data, has been collecting such information on students between the grades of 5 and 9 for many years. But this year — for the first time — it has also released the numbers on students in grades 10 and 11, and the date stunned even those who believed they knew just how prevalent private tutoring is.
In total, 70% of tenth- and eleventh-graders have resorted to tutoring at least once in two years, with as many as 40% getting tutoring on regular basis.
Etti Binyamin, head of the national parents' association, says 80 percent of students seek tutoring at one time or another. The rest don't because they don't have the money, not because they do well in school.
"Many parents need to take out loans to finance this," says Binyamin. "Schools don't provide enough tutoring, so additional help is required in subjects like math and English. With many heavy assignments and parents who aren't always able to help, parents prefer to pay private tutors."
Like those many other countries, Israelis are currently dealing with the fallout from the 2008 global financial upheaval, yet the tutoring industry is continuing to notch gains. Although it's hard to provide an accurate estimate of the sector's value — many tutors are paid under the table — some estimates peg the Israeli tutoring market at NIS 1 billion, which is roughly a quarter of a billion US dollars.
The demand has led some companies to experiment with providing student assistance via online learning, an approach that remains mainly unexplored in the country. Yariv Bin-Nun, the CEO of eTeacher, can be considered a pioneer in the field. He said he spotted the opportunity years ago, which is what inspired him to hire several teachers and have them offer lessons to students over the internet.
"We did very well and were in high demand, but we soon realized there was something wrong with the way things work in Israel," Bin-Nun says. "Our costs for infrastructure and teachers made our product unprofitable. Salaries are high here, with other expenses that are uncommon elsewhere. It's also hard to compete in a marketplace where earnings go unreported. Today we focus on online teaching abroad, where conditions are more favorable."