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Education professionals criticized last week a new, expedited teacher-training program launched to relieve a crippling shortage of English teachers.

Experts fear the Education Ministry course, which will put graduates in classrooms after a few weeks of training, will damage the quality of education.

"You can't train teachers in two weeks," said Professor Yair Caro, head of Oranim Academic College. "This sort of course can only give them basic tools in the hope they learn the rest as they go along."

"We are slipping back to how things used to be in the 1960s and the 1950s, when there was a serious shortage of teachers," said Professor Shlomo Beck, President of Kaye Academic College of Education and chairman of the teaching college forum. "Clearly, the teaching profession will suffer from this," he added.

The expedited program has 150 participants. All have either a bachelor's degree in English, or a bachelor's degree and mother-tongue knowledge of English. The program is being offered at six teaching colleges across Israel. The curriculum covers teaching methods, classroom presentation and management.

After they finish the course, the teachers will receive 1.5 days of training a week for two years, alongside work. Students at one college will begin working as teachers before even completing the basic training course.

Education Ministry officials said this was "a serious omission," but added that they had to do everything possible to make sure that no classes lack teachers come September. Two weeks ago, the ministry was 200 English teachers short.

Ministry officials said they will be facing similar crises in the future, such as a lack of math teachers and middle school teachers. In an attempt to give the new hires extra support, each will be assigned teacher counselors at the school and the college.

Approximately 25 percent of teachers will teach high school classes, including classes that will take matriculation exams this school year.

Sima Yogev, who heads the expedited program at Levinsky College of Education, says that a bachelor's in English literature is not a guarantee of knowing enough English to teach.

"Over the years, we have learned that many university graduates with good grades hardly speak English," she says. "Their papers were written by other people, and they were hardly ever required to speak English during their studies."

In June, the ministry unveiled another plan designed to alleviate the shortage in English teachers, via immigrants from English-speaking countries. Zion Shabat, head of the ministry's employment department, says they plan to give new immigrants with bachelor's degrees a full scholarship for an expedited three-month training course. Israelis with bachelor's degrees must complete a one- to two-year training course to receive a certificate.

Under the plan, English-speaking immigrants would be certified to teach grades 1-12. Shabat said trainees would be able to start working while studying.

"This will help relieve some of the shortage as early as this September," he said. He added the program was being run in conjunction with immigrant-assistance organization Nefesh B'Nefesh.

Dr. Yael Bejarano, former head of the Open University's English Department, said she supported the plan. "One of the main reasons for the ministry's reluctance to teach English to first-graders is the lack of teachers. This could help. But the new teachers would have a hard time functioning in the higher grades."

She added: "Survival in the field is a big concern. Experience from similar projects training new immigrants as English teachers has shown that most of them drop out after a year or two, which is a waste of training resources. The ministry needs to find a way to keep them in the field."