Israel to Woo Students to Study Humanities With YouTube, Movies

Education Ministry hoping multimedia can bring Bible, literature and history to life and reverse the the sharp drop in students interested in such topics.

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The Education Ministry has launched a plan to tempt high school students to study literature, Bible and history using movies, YouTube and advanced Internet technology.

The plan was hatched following a sharp drop in the number of students taking matriculation exams in the full five-unit levels in humanities.

The last State Comptroller’s Report found that in 2011, 1,447 students − only 2.7 percent of the students in the state education system − took the five-unit level matriculation exam in literature, compared to 2,400 in 2006. Also in 2011, 543 students wrote the Bible exam and 345 wrote the history exam − 1 percent and 1.1 percent, respectively − compared to more than 2 percent in 2004.

The Education Ministry realized the dwindling number of students taking the matriculation exams in the humanities was the result of the neglect these subjects had been shown for many years, ministry officials said.

The ministry issued a management circular urging schools to encourage students to study the humanities. The ministry promised financial assistance to schools in which fewer than 15 students want to study humanities, to enable them to open smaller classes.

The ministry plans to open classrooms in Haifa and Tel Aviv for students whose schools don’t offer studies in humanities subjects. Schools will be required to report to the ministry on how many of their students took core humanities subjects for five-unit level matriculation exams.

Teachers urged to go techno

In the circular, the ministry’s Pedagogical Secretariat called on teachers to refresh the curriculum by combining multidisciplinary studies. For example, history teachers were asked to combine literature, movies and lectures by well-known historians from YouTube in their lessons.

The ministry urges teachers to make use of Google Earth, social networks and Web 2.0 − advanced Internet technology and applications including blogs, wikis, RSS and social bookmarking. It also encourages creating alternative study spaces such as study tours, debating clubs and virtual meetings between schools.

Dr. Orna Katz-Atar, head of history teaching in the ministry, is encouraging teachers to use teaching devices that combine various art disciplines.

“Combining arts in history teaching is essential. To understand a period you need to understand its music and art,” Katz says.

In the last history matriculation exam, one of the questions required viewing part of a Charlie Chaplin movie. History studies will also emphasize the ethical and ideological aspects of events, says Katz-Atar.

The ministry encourages teachers to set up virtual communities and use them to present their curricula and discuss them together.

Teachers’ groups in various study fields already have Facebook pages, but so far this has not been carried out in an institutionalized, organized way.

The ministry asked teachers who have put together their own humanities curriculum to submit it to the ministry and receive NIS 10,000 to help them develop and improve them.

As of next year the ministry will hold competitions and award prizes for the best project, says Katz-Atar.

She told Education Ministry officials who grade matriculation exams to accept any answer that is historically correct and well argued, even if some parts of it are not included in the curriculum.

“The field of knowledge is constantly renewing itself. If a student knows or has read a new approach to history, he can write ‘and a new study finds ...’ or ‘recently it has transpired that ...’ The examiner is to understand that maybe there’s an approach to history here that he isn’t familiar with,” she said.

Actor Charlton Heston in 'The Ten Commandments.'Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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