Bialik Too Hard? Try Kofiko

It's odd that a fine parliamentarian like Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar is choosing to harm the foundations of Israeli culture and civic responsibility.

Every teacher has heard - and a lot more often than once - the question "Is this going to be on the exam?" Now Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar comes along seeking to free teachers from this annoyance. In his reforms, there will be fewer exams, especially fewer matriculation exams.

Like his two predecessors, Sa'ar wants to shake things up to improve education and students' achievements. He proposes, rightly, to end the practice of breaking the school year into three parts; the academic year is short in any case. Yes, it would be good to get rid of this trimester system, which requires many exams and grading before teachers can properly teach the material. A new system could allot more time to learning and deeper understanding.

The problem begins with the way Sa'ar plans to use the new calendar. Under the proposed reforms, important subjects like English and math would be taught throughout the school year, whereas "trivial" subjects like civics would be taught only during a single semester.

Indeed, this is excellent preparation for the university entrance exams, but what about internalizing humanistic values and developing abstract thinking? If we recall that in high school most students acquire information about arithmetic and trigonometry but do not acquire tools for abstract reasoning, this curriculum will leave a dangerous void.

Worse still is the proposal to reduce the Education Ministry's responsibility for the statewide matriculation exams, transferring some of them to the schools. This step is liable to lead to superficial study material and an increase in the gaps between well-off and poor areas. When we add the proposal to increase the use of individual contracts for principals and teachers, the reforms might lead to alarming gaps among schools.

To show achievements, principals will use statistical tables reflecting astronomical grades. On the assumption that only some students are gifted enough to attain such grades, principals will have to resort to one of two actions: ensure that the weak drop out, or adjust the exams. Students from prosperous areas will do well. Educated parents, or their money, will enable students to cope with the learning materials, even the toughest. Students with less-educated and less-prosperous parents will lose every battle - and the entire war. If they are not encouraged to drop out of the system they will survive only in weak schools that examine them using suitably designed tests.

Internal rather than statewide matriculation exams - whose supervision would be haphazard under the minister's proposal - would be drawn up accordingly. Is our national poet Bialik too difficult for students? Let's go with Kofiko, the monkey in a popular book series for young children.

Once again we will be surprised to find that students with a weak background are very weak and students with a strong background are very strong. Once again we will be shocked at ignorance about civics. Once again we will ask ourselves why the English know who the Knights of the Round Table were and the Israelis barely know why they light the Hanukkah candles.

It's odd that a fine parliamentarian like Sa'ar is choosing to harm the foundations of Israeli culture and civic responsibility. He, who as a Knesset member vigorously defended the principles of civic equality and the state's responsibility toward its citizens, has chosen to damage Israeli society's most important piece of infrastructure. His sincere aspiration to improve the system has moved from the phase of examination and reparation to a phase that casts aside the foundations of an education worthy of the name.