High school students taking an exam.
High school students taking their matriculation (bagrut) exam. Photo by Alon Ron
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According to a recent survey, 87 percent of high school students forget what they've learned only a short time after taking the matriculation (bagrut) exam in a given subject. This statistic reflects the depressing state of our high schools, where there is almost no time for real learning to take place.

That the Education Ministry may revamp its system of mikudim - literally "focuses," a list issued in the spring for each subject that narrows down the material that will appear on the exams - would be a first step toward correcting this situation. But for the teaching in our schools to assume the meaning and character that are currently missing, other steps are needed - first and foremost, a reduction in the number of mandatory matriculation exams and exam dates, along with updates to the various curricula.

The mikud method was introduced more than a decade ago, and quickly turned into another one of those shady Israeli arrangements: The schools that tried to fulfill Education Ministry requirements to teach the full curriculum in various subjects until the last third of the year (when the mikudim are issued) quickly discovered this was an impossible task. Other schools didn't even try, focusing instead on guessing which topics were likely to be included on the tests, thereby adding to the pupils' stress. The result was high schools that settled for superficial teaching that contributed nothing to the pupils' learning skills and left many teachers frustrated.

The proposal to announce at the beginning of the school year which topics will appear on the matriculation exams would allow teachers to teach those topics in a more in-depth fashion. Even more importantly, it would enable them to demand that their pupils provide more comprehensive answers, of the type that require analysis and independent thinking, not parrotting back facts that have no context and are soon forgotten anyway.

This change would mean that there would be some topics that would not appear on the exams and would therefore not be taught. But if the topics that are included are studied more thoroughly, that's a price that can be paid. The damage being caused by perpetuating the current system is far greater.