Everyone knows our education system is sick. Very sick, even. Everyone also knows that the standard of teachers is fairly low, and the achievements of the students are embarrassing. Many people complain about the wide gaps between the achievements of the children who come from well-to-do families and those from poor families. And there is no secular person who would not like ultra-Orthodox children also to study mathematics, English, history and civics.
Now, though, it transpires that Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar has found one strong and effective remedy for all these problematic matters - cutting the number of Bagrut [matriculation] examinations. Recently he appointed a committee whose duty was to lower the number of compulsory subjects for the Bagrut from seven to three. Every school would then decide for itself the other subjects in which its students would be examined, and also give them a grade in those subjects without any outside intervention. The school would make it possible, too, for the students to do a "paper" instead of the internal examinations so as to lessen the heavy burden on the poor wretched students.
Among the many explanations for this "reform," which obviously will be greeted with hearty applause by the students and some of the teachers, Education Ministry officials mention their strong desire to change the atmosphere of "a factory for grades" in the schools into a progressive one. In this imagined utopia, all will spend their time thinking, creating, analyzing and acquiring skills without wasting time on those stupid things known as exams.
True, the officials know that the only time students actually sit down and study seriously is before a test. They also know that without the threat of the exams, the vast majority would not even go to school. But why bother our nice youngsters with irritating subjects such as mathematics, English, history, civics, Bible studies, Hebrew language and literature, when it is possible to test them in much "cooler" subjects such as horse riding and salsa dancing?
It is also important not to harm the gentle souls of these young girls and boys. It is therefore appropriate to make it possible to exchange examinations for "papers" - which means going on the Internet to cut-and-paste from various sources and then turn in a wonderful paper. A good grade is ensured in advance, because this is to the benefit of both student and teacher.
It is clear that a "reform" of this kind will turn the Bagrut certificate into a joke, and that it will not be possible for any university to use it as a basis for acceptance. After all, no one will believe in the grades that are distributed by a school to its students. It is also clear that the further the school is from the center of the country, the more sectorial it is and the weaker it is - the higher the grades will be that the student can boast about on his "Bagrut certificate."
Since this is the case, why does Sa'ar want this reform so much? Perhaps because he knows that the only public test of the quality of the education minister is the percentage of students who get a Bagrut certificate, and this "reform" will take him swiftly to his destination. True, knowledge and erudition will be completely lost, but how important is that compared with the achievement of having more graduates with a Bagrut?
Previous education ministers likewise tried to raise the number of Bagrut recipients in creative ways. Zevulun Hammer and Yitzhak Levy developed a system of "focusing," which cut out about one third of the material required for a Bagrut. Amnon Rubinstein invented the system of "lotteries," which lowered the number of examinations. Limor Livnat developed a system of modular examinations. And when she saw that alone was not sufficient, she introduced the system of a "second session" in English and mathematics, so that the best grade of the two would be the one accepted.
Yuli Tamir made it possible to increase the number of students with "learning problems" to such an extent that it became absurd, with those students getting extra time and special concessions so they would pass. And all of them made possible a grotesque increase in the number of subjects in which it is possible to be examined - 152 various and sundry topics.
Now Sa'ar has joined the race. He knows that the moment his populist "reform" is applied, he will be recognized as the best education minister that Israel has ever had. Fact: The number of Bagrut recipients will soar and break all previous records.
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