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All seventh-graders will receive at least one extra class hour per week next school year, in each of three subjects - math, science and Hebrew or Arabic (depending on the school's primary language), the Education Ministry has decided.

The ministry has budgeted NIS 250 million to finance these thousands of additional hours, and hopes that in subsequent school years, the program will be expanded to other grades.

The ministry also plans to issue nationwide tests in all three subjects. Students' scores on these tests will count toward their final grades.

Over the last several years, the budget for secondary school education has been cut repeatedly, resulting in a loss of six to eight class hours per week. Now, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar is seeking to reverse this trend, but is also insisting that the extra hours be devoted to these three "core" subjects, rather than electives.

The ministry detailed the additions in a letter sent to the schools last week: Mother-tongue language instruction will increase from three to four hours a week (though in practice, many schools teach only two hours); math instruction will increase from four to five hours a week; and science instruction will increase to four hours a week.

A ministry official said the new rules will be strictly enforced: Schools will no longer be allowed to teach less than the prescribed number of hours in these three fields.

However, they will be able to choose whether to use the extra hours for ordinary classroom instruction or work in small groups, and ministry officials predicted that many schools will opt for the latter.

Ministry officials described the increased class hours as one of the ministry's most important steps for the next few years.

"Of all the plans now being examined to improve students' achievements, this is the safest bet," said one.

The fact that some of the extra hours will probably be used for small-group instruction should contribute to "better, more personalized learning," he added.

In addition, the ministry plans to bolster teacher training in the three core subjects by selecting 600 outstanding teachers to serve as mentors for their 6,000 or so colleagues.

In order to ensure that schools have enough teachers to cover the added hours, the ministry will apparently issue special permits for seventh-grade teachers who teach the three core subjects to work more than full-time.