spelling bee
An American spelling bee. Photo by Bloomberg
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The Education Ministry is joining forces with Channel 2 television franchisee Keshet and Teddy Productions to create a prime-time spelling bee reality show with child contestants, as part of the ministry's "year of the Hebrew language" theme for the current school year.

The format, which was inspired by the increasingly popular broadcasts in the United States of the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee - the finals of which are aired live on the ABC network - was put together by Keshet and Teddy Productions and then presented to the ministry.

According to various sources, ministry officials have met several times in recent weeks to discuss the proposal's educational aspects, as well as the implications of cooperating with commercial bodies. Partnerships of this type must be vetted by a special ministry committee.

In the initial stage, the Hebrew spelling competition will be open to children in the fourth to sixth grades. Camera crews will tape the bees, to be held at the school, regional and national levels, and a website will be built for the contestants' use.

The sources emphasized that in contrast to many reality shows, the winners will not be determined by audience votes, but by a panel of judges.

"This is an original way to interest students in enriching their daily vocabularies," a source in the ministry said. "The medium of television is an inseparable part of the students' world, and such a partnership could improve their knowledge of Hebrew."

According to a highly placed source in the production team, "The time has come to do something in the area of language and make it as 'sexy' and attractive as any successful TV show." He added that the model for the format is "docutainment."

"Teddy Productions and Keshet are pleased to cooperate with the Education Ministry on the topic of Hebrew," Teddy Productions CEO Tamira Yardeni said. "We are very excited about the program, which will be enjoyable, entertaining and also beneficial."

But a language educator who did not want to be identified was less enthusiastic about the project.

"Knowing how to spell is indeed very important, but it doesn't have to be done through a television contest," he said. "It's crucial that such a competition not be based on rote memorization of words and expressions. Then the learning becomes purely technical. A greater challenge would be to encourage children to read and thereby improve their Hebrew language and, no less important, reading comprehension skills."