Education Reform: A Leftist Plot?
Education Minister Yifat Shasha Biton proudly announced that she has embarked upon a process of reform for the educational system. She calls it a revolution. In her Facebook post she exclaims:
Education reform — we have begun!
Today we are at the start of a new era with respect to Israel’s education system.
Specifically, Minister Shasha Biton has eliminated the bagrut exams for the humanities. Hebrew literature, Tanakh (Bible Studies), history and civics will instead be graded based on in-school evaluations that will likely include regular exams as well as other measures. A new feature has been added – in place of externally prepared and graded bagrut exams in these subjects, pupils will write a comprehensive multi-disciplinary paper that will be evaluated by external graders.
Avi Maoz (Religious Zionist Party) responded thus (my translation):
Again, wrapped in the language of the “learning experience,” the education ministry is giving pupils a clear message — math and English are the important disciplines of study, Tanach a lot less. This is the result of decades of infiltration of foreign elements and those with evil intentions supported by foreign funds within the Education Ministry.
Is this just another means by which to attack the current coalition government? A common theme is that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has made a sharp turn left and his critics point out ways in which he has abandoned his right wing principles.
In this case, however, Maoz speaks about two separate issues as if they are related, namely the elimination of certain bagrut exams, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the fact that some principals allow into their schools members of leftwing NGOs, such as Breaking the Silence. These leftist NGOs seek to indoctrinate pupils in ways that can be considered as anti-Zionist and they have no place in Israeli schools. But these are two separate issues that need to be dealt with separately. And it should be noted that when he was education minister, Bennett did, in fact, remove leftist NGOs from the approved list of external speakers.
We should set aside the noise, then, created by criticism such as this that muddies the situation and focus on the issue at hand.
While Shasha Biton says that eliminating bagrut exams for the humanities is a revolutionary step and a sign of bringing the education system into the modern era, she may be overstating it. I contend that bagrut was set aside for decades in at least one other country with positive results. I need to give a personal anecdote that has no statistical validation in order to demonstrate what I mean.
I grew up in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. When I was in school in Ontario, we had 13 grades, in other words, four years of high school. The summer before I began Grade 12, the education department decided to eliminate Grade 12 matriculation exams and just before I began Grade 13, they eliminated final year exams as well. I was tremendously relieved because I never did well in tests.
Furthermore, those applying to university no longer needed to take university entrance exams. Universities admitted applicants based solely on their high school evaluations and the threshold for getting into first year university was not prohibitively high. You could be an average high school student and be admitted to first year. Then it was sink or swim. Many people do much better in university than their high school grades seem to predict.
There is a strong possibility that had I grown up in Israel, I would not have made it into university. That would have been a personal loss and, I like to think, a loss for all the people I helped across my career as a family therapist.
Of course, I could have put out large sums of money to improve test scores in both the bagrut and university entrance exams until I would have achieved the necessary grades. Many do. But is that not a waste of time and money? After all, what is really needed to succeed in one’s profession is not the ability to get high grades on sit-down exams (in other words, in an artificial setting) but the ability to learn on one’s own and adapt what one knows to real-life situations. In other words, the development of cognitive and independent learning skills should be the foundation goal of education. And what the modern era provides is access to the Internet so that rote learning is surely out-dated.
Together with the promotion of cognitive skills, reducing an emphasis on sit-down exams would free up time for classroom discussions and debates that would enhance the development of pupils’ social skills, leadership skills, and discovery of the pupils’ individual learning styles. Furthermore, within this environment of exploration rather than recitation, pupils would potentially gain a deeper appreciation for one or more of these disciplines. whether it is literature, Tanakh, history or civics.
Then, contrary to what critics such as Avi Maoz fear, we may actually produce a younger generation more understanding and appreciative of the traditional, historical and cultural aspects of Israeli life and society than those coming out of the matriculation based education system.
Feature Image Credit: Pixabay