Half of Israeli High School Students Want to Abolish Matriculation Exams, Poll Finds

Most of the students who will start 11th and 12th grade on Tuesday seem to agree with Education Minister Shay Piron’s plan for a radical overhaul of matriculation exams.

About half of 16- and 17-year-old students support the abolition of all matriculation exams (bagrut), a Haaretz polls has found.

The poll, conducted by Professor Camille Fuchs among 500 students, indicates that the percentage of students starting 11th grade on Tuesday who support abolishing the exams stands at 61 percent, while among imminent 12-graders it stands at 49 percent.

The poll comes against the backdrop of Education Minister Shay Piron’s plan to drastically reduce the number of bagrut exams. Yesh Atid’s Piron wants to keep only three exams - in math, English and mother tongue (Hebrew or Arabic) - in a format similar to the current one, whereas the format of civics, Bible, literature and history exams will be changed, though the minister is yet to unveil how exactly. Piron is inclined to have these exams marked by school staff, or turn them into research assignments.

Piron’s radical plan has attracted widespread criticism. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for his part, has said he’s against the abolition of the Bible and history tests. Over the weekend, writers, poets and researchers of literature contacted Piron, asking him not to abolish the literature exams.

In line with his party’s platform, Piron has recently restated his opinion that the structure of the matriculation examinations needed changing, addressing what he calls “inflation of matriculation exams,” especially in the humanities. The poll shows that most students agree with him. Forty-five percent of the students said they would like to do away with the literature exam, while 17 percent would like to abolish the Bible exam, 16 percent history, and 13 percent would like the civics exam gone. Nine percent of the respondents had no opinion.

When it came to subjects the pupils considered boring, literature came in first place at 30 percent. History was next in line at 14 percent, followed by civics (13 percent), Bible (12 percent) and math (10 percent). Only 12 percent of the pupils answered that they didn’t consider any subject boring. The numbers show that Piron’s claim that the matriculation exams in the humanities make pupils dislike those subjects seems to have some basis in reality. The question is whether doing away with the matriculation exams in subjects such as literature will really increase students’ interest in the topics.

The poll - whose results will be presented on Sunday at the Haaretz education conference, hosted by the Haifa municipality - also shows that the students consider the matriculation exams irrelevant to their lives. About half the respondents think that the matriculation tests don’t prepare them well for university, as compared with 12 percent who believe they do. Asked whether they felt it was more important that schools instilled values or prepared them for the matriculation exams, 55 percent of the students surveyed felt the former was more important, while only nine percent felt it was the latter. Thirty-six percent felt that schools should do both. Sixty-one percent of the students said that the youth movements were still relevant to teenagers’ daily lives, while 21 percent thought otherwise and 18 percent had no opinion.

Also, 56 percent of the students felt that the school system needed to deal with political subjects, and the poll surveyed their political opinions, too. Although the majority of the students — 67 percent — answered that they didn’t believe there would be peace between Israel and the Palestinians, 69 percent of the respondents expressed interest in the peace talks that are now taking place. A similar percentage of respondents believed that Israel must not transfer parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinians as part of a comprehensive peace agreement. Eighty-two percent of the students said they wanted to enlist in the army after graduating high school, and 77 percent of the pupils said that yeshiva students should be drafted as well.

Most of the students surveyed said that they would have no problem being in a class with an Arab teacher or Arab classmates. Sixty-one percent of the respondents answered that they would have no problem having Arab classmates, while 58 percent answered that they would have no problem being taught by an Arab teacher. But 42 percent said it would bother them to have an Arab teacher.

As for the students’ hopes for the future, 45 percent of the respondents said they would like to work in management when they grew up, 19 percent wanted to work in research and 14 percent in industry. Seven percent said they wanted to be television stars. Most of the students (73 percent) said they didn’t want to be teachers when they grew up. Only eight percent wanted to be teachers, and 19 percent said they didn’t know yet what they wanted to be when they grew up.

But the poll also had encouraging statistics about the place of school in the students’ lives. While 78 percent of the pupils said they used Facebook every day (of them, 30 percent said they surfed less than an hour, 34 percent said they surfed between one and two hours, 21 percent said they surfed between two and four hours, and 14 percent said they surfed more than four hours a day), most of them said that the Internet was not a replacement for the knowledge they acquired at school. Seventy percent admitted that they got more knowledge from their school studies than on Facebook or Wikipedia. At the same time, 79 percent said that schools need innovation.

Nir Kafri
Daniel Bar-On