Beyond the Threshold of Lucidity

Little by little, reports concerning the state of Israel's education system are coming in, evincing pathetic results on international examinations.

Little by little, reports concerning the state of Israel's education system are coming in, evincing pathetic results on international examinations; fewer than half of our students are eligible for a matriculation certificate; and many of them are incapable of writing a composition when they arrive at institutions of higher learning. And as the ultra-Orthodox educational stream prefers to refrain from reporting on its students' achievements, we can only guess how its graduates will handle daily tasks of the 21st century.

What is so terrible about these reports is that they aren't actually news. Their contents have been declaimed for several years now. Each year, in light of students' poor performance, the Education Ministry gets rid of its existing program and declares it will be launching a new approach that will improve the situation. This year the education minister was bursting with pride, thanks to average grades which are significantly lower than what is commonly seen in the OECD countries. Instead of concentrating on cheap propaganda, he would do better to figure out the source of the deficiency.

Most of the students who earn matriculation certificates come from well-off communities, and a minority of them from the economic and ethnic periphery. But we already heard about this phenomenon a year ago, two years ago, five years ago. What has happened since then? Several education ministers have come and gone, each one of them adopting new methods, asking for budgets and explaining that as long as the Finance Ministry and the teachers unions don't interfere, Israel will once again produce geniuses.

Everyone ignored the fact that even those students who have succeeded in receiving the desired matriculation certificate still arrive at institutions of higher education using vocabulary and syntax befitting text messages and Twitter. For years, the universities kept the information about students' writing abilities to themselves. The universities cut back on expenses and forfeited lessons in academic writing, and in the regional colleges they're plowing uncultivated fields, which were neglected by the schools in the outlying areas.

The heads of the institutions of higher learning recently decided to set a standard for lucid writing for those students who want to be accepted in departments of social sciences, humanities and arts. A writing section will soon be including in the psychometric exams (as is done in the United States on the SATs ). Students of the exact sciences and the natural sciences, however, are exempt from having to write compositions clearly; they will seclude themselves in their laboratories.

Israeli students have not become stupid. The fools are the ones heading the education system who believe, like the education ministers we have seen over the past 20 years, that getting rid of one curriculum and replacing it with another will change the situation beyond recognition. The heads of the institutions of higher education are also to blame here; for years they remained silent after reading student compositions which were perhaps written in Hebrew letters, but in incomprehensible sublanguages.

The ministry's hasty introduction of new programs on the one hand, and the institutions' silence on the other, have accelerated the downhill slide of the state educational system. Israel has a population whose forefathers attained impressive achievements. Arab history is full of discoveries in the fields of mathematics and engineering. Jewish history is characterized by interpretative, historiographic and artistic writing; Jews also constitute 22 percent of Nobel Prize laureates.

Once the heads of the education system stop fleeing from reality, we can return to making outstanding achievements. These officials must acknowledge the root of the problem: an increasing difficulty in teaching students how to learn. In order for the situation to change, the decision makers must stop their denials and contortions and return to the classroom. Instead of investing efforts aimed at pleasing the "clients" - ie, the students - the system must focus on teaching them how to learn.