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The Education Ministry has decided to make sciences a compulsory subject for matriculation, thus raising the number of exams required from seven to eight. The change will come into effect in three or four years.

"We cannot accept a situation in which a pupil who finishes high school is not familiar with basic scientific terms," a senior source at the Education Ministry said. The science exam is intended to increase science studies in senior high school, the source said.

Despite the ministry's long-standing instructions to teach sciences in senior high school, many schools don't. Only some 25 percent of the 60,000 or so 12th grade pupils in academic high schools study a science subject - physics, biology or chemistry - and pass matriculation exams in them. Most of the others hardly study sciences at all.

21st century necessity

"Knowledge of science and technology is part of the general education everyone needs today," the Education Ministry's director general wrote in a memo at the beginning of the month. "To function adequately in the 21st century world, a person needs a basic literacy that now includes familiarity with scientific and technical language, its terms and mode of thought," he wrote.

Until now pupils have been required to take seven matriculation exams: Bible, Hebrew expression, mathematics, English, literature, history and civic studies. They also have had to take a more extensive exam in one of the compulsory subjects, or in a subject of choice, which could include one of the science subjects or another such as geography or sociology.

"There is no difference in the overall number of study units required for matriculation," an Education Ministry official said. "But a new emphasis will be placed on sciences."

Professor Bat-Sheva Eylon of the Weizmann Institute, who is a member of the Science and Technology for All (Mutav) project, said "science and technology were part of general education and there is no other way to advance the subject except anchoring it in matricultion exams."

The science study program will be largely based on the Mutav project, which consists of developing interdisciplinary learning modules intended for non-science oriented students (who opted not to specialize in the disciplinary sciences).

To date the following modules were developed: "Energy and the Human Being", "Science as an ever Developing Entity", "From the Dinosaurs to Darwin", "Brain, Medicine & Drugs", and "The Black Gold". More recently the group started developing a module dealing with forensic science.

Pupils who opt for one of the science subjects will be tested on a subject combining physics, chemistry and biology. "Even a pupil who studies physics at a high level needs a wide basis of knowledge and not make do with a specific formula," Eylon said.

The Mutav program is studied today in around 100 senior high schools and the Education Ministry intends to expand it gradually to some 500 schools.