Education Reform Looks a Lot Like Business as Usual

Draft of reform plan indicates that psychometric exams face little danger from the Education Ministry.

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Students at an Israeli university.
Students at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.Credit: Emil Salman

The Education Ministry reform meant to reduce the need for the psychometric exam as a prerequisite for university admission does not look like much of a reform after all, at least according to a draft outline of the plan obtained by Haaretz.

According to the document, drawn up by the country’s universities together with the ministry, admission to higher education would be based on an “outstanding matriculation certificate,” but the proposed requirements are not substantially different from what the universities require today. In some fields, such as engineering, the psychometric exam will still be required.

Thus, the new plan is hardly the “revolution” the ministry announced with great fanfare several months ago, with critics saying it will benefit students from strong socioeconomic backgrounds who need help the least. The ministry stressed that the document represents a work in progress, and that in any case the changes will not affect the coming year, but will be instituted only for the 2015/16 academic year.

The outline presents the minimum requirements for acceptance in each field as a function of matriculation units, without setting a minimum grade average required for each subject, which would be the purview of each individual institution. The table shows that to be accepted to a humanities faculty, one would need four units of English and either Hebrew, history, literature, Bible or civics at a five-unit level. Admission to the social sciences would require four units of English, while getting into the economics department would also require four or five units of math.

Applicants to science departments would need four units of English, five units of math and five units in a “relevant” science discipline. As for engineering, some departments will accept students without a psychometric exam, but they must have five units of English and math and five units of either physics or chemistry. The table did not specify law-school requirements.

The comments to the table note that “an applicant to a specific department without an excellent matriculation certificate appropriate to that department will be required to take the psychometric exam. Acceptance will be determined by the matriculation grades, the psychometric results, additional special department requirements and available slots.”

The universities will presumably maintain the additional English- and Hebrew-language tests now required for high-school graduates from Arab, Druze, and Bedouin schools who did not take the psychometric exams.

The document also states that certain departments may waive the psychometric requirement and the need for an exceptional matriculation certificate, in exchange for compliance with specific requirements for each department. These departments, however, are not specified.

While the document is a rough, preliminary draft, it seems far from the “doing away with the psychometric” promised by the Education Ministry. There are already some university programs that do not require the exam for admission, and departments with low demand may accept prospective students whose high-school grades were not outstanding. Moreover, since the new plan only sets general prerequisites, there will be no uniformity in the admission requirements of the different institutions. In short, many applicants will continue to feel compelled to take the psychometric exam.

Prof. Daniel Gutwein of the University of Haifa said the proposal would further widen educational gaps. “The plan will exempt the upper tier of well-off and outstanding pupils from the hassle of the psychometric exam, while making it required for the less well-off. Given the relationship between matriculation achievements and socioeconomic status, anyone who doesn’t excel will have to keep wading through the psychometric swamp. Outstanding matriculation certificates are possible only at the highest socioeconomic clusters; today half the pupils don’t earn a matriculation certificate at all.”

Gutwein added that the proposal will further undermine humanities studies, which are already suffering from reduced interest. “These subjects will only be important for matriculation for those seeking admission to humanities [programs]. As it stands now, this proposal will destroy the study of humanities. It’s hard to understand why the universities are prepared to abet such a thing. If high-school curricula will be organized based on what appears here, student will study English, math and science, with some humanities subject at the margins.”

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