Education Ministry Ditches Limor Livnat's '100 Zionist Concepts' Program

One of the curricular cornerstones of the previous minister of education, aimed at teaching Zionism, democracy and cultural heritage to the country's junior-high students, is to be scrapped from next year in favor of a program based on primary texts.

Instead of "100 Concepts in Heritage, Zionism and Democracy" and its accompanying, nationwide examination, students will choose from among a number of basic topics, the teaching of which will be based on original texts, including passages from the Bible and the Talmud as well as Hebrew fiction, poetry, essays and journals. Instead of a standardized exam, each school will decide its own evaluation methods.

100 Concepts was one of the major projects introduced by former education minister Limor Livnat. Taught in the seventh to ninth grades, it was based on a list of 100 core concepts, most of which were taught in all state schools. (A different set of concepts was taught in non-Jewish schools.)

While its proponents argued the benefits of teaching a unified curriculum in order to strengthen the students' national identity and knowledge of Israeli democracy, its detractors said the attempt to inculcate a limited list of concepts on which students would be tested was neither educational nor professional.

"When there are few classroom hours it's impossible to do serious work on a large number of concepts," the chair of the ministry's pedagogical directorate, Prof. Anat Zohar, said. "The question is what's more important, giving the students the sense of being at home in Israeli culture or of pushing in one more piece of information. I believe it's the former.

"If we can give the education system a sense of Israeli culture, the children might learn one less fact but the subjects will be closer to them and they'll want to continue to learn them." She said the material was taught through rote memorization and forgotten after the exam.

According to Education Minister Yuli Tamir, the new program "will bring the student closer to the 'Jewish bookshelf' through a meaningful discussion. The experiential and challenging learning method will help the student to develop a Jewish identity while learning the value of tolerance."

The new curriculum was created by a committee headed by Prof. Avi Sagi of Bar-Ilan University. According to the committee's report, it was originally planned for three weekly instructional hours, but the Education Ministry has budgeted only two hours for it. Each school will select two to four topics from a list of seven. They will include social issues (violence, social and sexual equality), community issues (social involvement and social justice), Zionism and the State of Israel and the Jewish calendar (Shabbat and holidays).

With regard to the texts used to teach the topics, the report states: "The committee adopts the principle of giving equal value to the source material: No specific canon, such as the Bible or the Talmud, shall be accorded a superior status. Students in state schools must come into contact with the totality of Jewish culture in order to shape their own attitude toward the entirety of the sources."