Once upon a time, to get the matriculation certificate, you had to put in quite an effort. Whoever wanted to get a truly good grade (what today would be called 5 points in math) knew it wouldn't be a walkover, and realized that it called for sweat and hard work. And as a result, the Israeli matriculation certificate made a name for itself, even in foreign circles.
But much water has passed under the bridge since those days, and populism is now the name of the game. The aim is to "make things better for the pupils," not to overtax them, to give them maximum choice, to lower demands made on them, and all to grab that elusive objective - their affection. That the pupils should like the education minister (and the finance minister too), and if that wins a few points for the party too - well that's just dandy.
The finance minister was the first on the track as soon as he entered office. Despite it not being in his purview at all, he raised a proposal in the government to cancel the psychometric tests, to make a university place accessible to anyone with a matriculation certificate; and in the meantime, he
persuaded Hebrew University, Jerusalem, to implement this policy in a limited fashion.
But Education Minister Limor Livnat was not born yesterday. She immediately told everyone (a year ago) that she planned to raise the percentage of pupils matriculating "from the present level of 40 percent to a level of 100 percent!" In other words, I am better than Shalom and worthy of more love. Taking both initiatives, we reach an advanced stage at which every high-school pupil gets his/her certificate and can then go on to university. And how does this affect the level of education? You'd rather not know.
In order to raise the pass percentage for the matriculation exams, one could up the quality of teaching. But that's terribly old-fashioned and conservative. And it also takes much too much time. So the minister thought up another scheme - a second sitting for the two most problematic subjects of English and math. These would be risk-free exams, such that the pupil would be graded on his or her best marks of the two takes, not necessarily the second score. Now wasn't that good of her?
The exam writers also understood the hidden message and took the trouble to write easier exams on the second sitting, so that the results were as expected: Pass rates for matriculation rose from 40.8 percent (2000) to 43.7 percent (2001). What a wonderful education system, what an excellent education minister.
But what is 43.7 percent when you are aiming for 100 percent? So the minister unveiled another easing of the situation this week. A new model of score counting will be set up again in the two trouble spots of English and math. This new model will make it easier for the pupils to pass, as the minister herself said: "It is an important decision that will make things easier for the pupils."
You once thought that the job of the Education Ministry was to turn out better educated students, with a broader knowledge and deeper values. How wrong you were! Its job is "to make things easier." How else will Livnat win the pupils' affection?
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