Education Chief Set to Unveil Plan Shaking Up Israeli Education System

Schooling based on memorization not fit for 21st century, says education minister; alternative modes of learning and evaluation achievement to be implemented.

Education Minister Shay Piron is expected to present his program for improving the education system in the next few days, stressing better and fewer matriculation exams.

The ministry has declined to disclose the date of Piron’s press conference, though education officials have been invited to an event scheduled for Wednesday.

Piron has said the education system is becoming irrelevant for the 21st century, pointing to matriculation examinations that focus too much on memorization.

Under Piron, matriculation exams would begin in the 11th grade instead of the 10th. In the first stage of the plan, the number of exams students must take in each subject would be reduced.

For example, if today students take three exams in mathematics, now there would only be one, conducted by the Education Ministry. This would significantly reduce costs as well.

Second sittings for exams, for when students either miss a test want to improve their grades, would probably be canceled. Only students who fail would have the option to retake an exam. The one exam students would be required to take would encompass around 60 percent to 70 percent of the current material.

Still, schools would provide their own evaluations of students in addition to the ministry exam, such as a written research project, practical research work or a group project. Students might also receive the option to create a work of art. Schools would probably receive the freedom to choose the type of this alternative evaluation.

Piron has repeatedly said in internal ministry discussions that his plan would be a long-term one to be completed in another decade or so. Therefore, not all the changes would be completed at the same time. He has denied that his moves are cosmetic changes designed to draw headlines.

Another key step would be to cancel the requirement of taking the psychometric exam used by almost all institutions of higher education for admission.

Most Israeli students start college relatively late, after they have finished their military service. The psychometric exam forces most of them to spend thousands of shekels on preparation courses, which leaves them starting university another year late.

In the new program, universities would require either a high average score on the matriculation exams or a good score on the psychometric exam. Universities would no longer use the average score from the two types of exam, as they do today.

In addition, the Education Ministry is in talks with the university heads on the three matriculation exams needed for admission. The three tests are expected to be English, the student’s mother tongue (usually Hebrew or Arabic) and math.

The universities are also being asked to help write some of the material for these tests, in cooperation with the National Authority for Measurement and Evaluation in Education. This would help provide consistency in the level of the tests. In programs such as medicine and engineering, the universities would conduct an additional examination themselves.

Piron also wants to give elementary schools and junior high schools the autonomy to choose what will be taught in up to 40 percent of the teaching hours. He also wants to stress social activism, making it an integral part of the educational program from first to 12th grades.

Piron might also establish a national council on education, which would include educators and intellectuals serving seven-year terms. The council would aim to separate education from politics and implement long-term projects, something that rarely happens today because of the frequent change of education ministers and other senior officials.

Other plans include the integration of various kinds of alternative school, such as democratic or anthroposophic schools, into the regular system.

Democratic schools stress values such as free choice of studies and the active participation by students, parents and staff in decision-making. Anthroposophic schools focus on hands-on activities, creativity, art, social skills, analysis and idealism.

In return for full funding, instead of the 75 percent they receive today, these schools would have to forgo their right to select students. They would also have to open new schools in the country’s outskirts and significantly reduce fees.

Also, technical high schools, which are currently under the supervision of the Economy Ministry, would be strengthened and placed under the auspices of the Education Ministry.

Moti Milrod