Atmosphere varies greatly from school to school, but in general, it is much more informal, and less disciplined than parallel American or British schools.
Much discretion lies in the hands of the principals or headmasters in terms of academic and community relations policy. The socio-economic makeup of a neighborhood will also obviously greatly effect the atmosphere in a school. Children address the teacher, principals and any other adult on the school premises by first name, and the familiarity that it engenders, is preserved.
The curriculum tends to be broader than that of North America and puts an emphasis on math, science, and foreign languages. In nursery and elementary grades, public secular schools are making efforts to model themselves after progressive schools which value the experiential and social exchange. Children are exposed to letters and pre-reading skills in kindergarten, but reading is not always taught before first grade. Teachers in early grades emphasize creativity, play and emotional development
The Hebrew educational system is actually many decades older than the State of Israel. At the time of the declaration of independence, a sophisticated network of schools, run primarily by the different ideological factions of the Yishuv, flourished. The first Prime Minister, the legendary David Ben Gurion, saw the danger in the babelization of Israeli society and was determined to institute a uniform curriculum which would erase differences and create a ‘melting pot’. Ben Gurion, who believed in “Do what I say AND what I do” essentially oversaw the dismantling of his own Labour Movement’s faction in education; a network of schools with a well-defined Jewish socialist basis, whose graduates formed the Hagana and the Palmach. Ben Gurion was also concerned that the existence of what was viewed as a politically-affiliated leftist system would spur the establishment of rightist systems and further split Israeli society. In essence, the price of uniform State education was paid by the Labor Movement educational system, since coalitionary pressures of the time and of today, keep the original religious schools alive, as well as the independent schools of the ultra-orthodox. The Education Ministry works hard to inculcate values of democracy, pluralism and tolerance in the public schools. Democracy is commonly defined to mean equal rights for all, in a system that accords supreme authority to the Knesset and the Courts.