Education Reform: Less Exams, More Analysis

The Education Ministry has decided on a number of pedagogical changes. The reforms involve reducing the amount of material covered and the number of matriculation exams, while emphasizing comprehension and analysis questions. The ministry hopes the new policies will impact the entire education system, from changes in teacher training through the writing and planning of curricula and text books and changes in matriculation exams. The new policy will be implemented gradually, over the next three to five years. According to Education Minister Yuli Tamir, "this move is similar to changing a computer's operating system. When it is implemented, the school system will be very different."

At a Tel Aviv press conference yesterday, Tamir and the chair of the ministry's pedagogical secretariat, Professor Anat Zohar, explained that the new policy involves a transition from "rote learning to development of understanding and thinking." Instead of passive knowledge of subjects and inflexible exercises, the ministry seeks to transition to active learning that places an emphasis on creating meaning, deepening understanding of content and creating the skills of learning and thinking."

The changes will be reflected in three principal areas: curricula and study materials, teachers' professional development and evaluation of student achievement. Matriculation exams are slated to begin reflecting the changes next year. "The exams in use now have not changed in fifty years," Zohar explained. "They address almost entirely basic knowledge and require little in the way of in-depth understanding or high-level thinking. The current format is an obstacle to the kind of change we seek."

The recommended changes include increasing the weight of evaluations by a student's teachers in determining their grades (as has already been widely recommended by several committees including the Dovrat Committee), and increasing the weight of individual projects and research. The ministry is also considering reducing the number of mandatory exams.

The NIS 750 million reform seeks to substantially reduce the amount of class time in which the teacher lectures and students take notes they will memorize prior to matriculation exams. The curriculum changes will be implemented in several subjects, including English, Hebrew language skills, Bible studies, geography, science and chemistry. A pilot program is already running in 10 schools in English and language skills. Next year, tenth grade students will already be tested according to the new principles.

Teaching colleges are expected to launch programs next year to teach the development of thinking.