Israeli Education Minister: Students Should Be Viewed as Customers

That’s how to improve higher education in Israel, says Naftali Bennett, claiming that teaching methods at Hebrew University haven't changed in 20 years.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett teaching math in a Petah Tikva school last in 2015.
Sasson Tiram

College students should be viewed as customers, Education Minister Naftali Bennett declared on Monday.

He was speaking during a meeting with students from the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo, which he visited along with Tel Aviv University to mark the opening of the new academic year.

The comment was sparked by a question as to why students are generally happy with the quality of teaching at the colleges but frequently unhappy with the quality at the universities. “The universities pride themselves on research, and therefore, the teaching is sometimes low-level,” Bennett replied.

He then described his own first day at Hebrew University in 1996, sitting in a 300-seat lecture hall. “The lecturer entered, opened a book and read. I was in shock ... What’s even worse is that if I went in today, [I’d find] that same lecturer and that same book.”

Consequently, he said, he and Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, who chairs the Council for Higher Education’s Planning and Budgeting Committee, “have formulated a plan for viewing the student as a customer. Much more innovation in methodology – for instance, put the text on the internet and discuss it in class ... We’ll bring the best lecturer in the world, or the country, make a multimedia video with him and show it. The classroom encounter will be for more interactive needs.”

Another student asked about last week’s statement by MK Bezalel Smotrich, a member of Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi party, terming Arab students “illiterates” who were “occupying places at the universities” despite being, in his view, unqualified. “Show me one Arab who passed the psychometric,” Smotrich demanded, referring to the college entrance exam.

Bennett didn’t condemn Smotrich, but insisted, “I believe in full equality of opportunity for every citizen of Israel ... I don’t accept any form of discrimination.”

He added that he was currently “very optimistic,” because “I see a strong desire to integrate into Israeli society at the grassroots level in the Arab community.”

Asked about his party’s opposition to equal rights for the LGBT community, Bennett said he believed in “individual rights and equal educational opportunities” for all, but as a religious party, Habayit Hayehudi can’t condone gay marriage. Instead, “we need to find an alternative solution,” he said.