Civics Matriculation Exam in Israel Omits High Court, Jewish-Arab Conflict

Officials from within the Education Ministry dispute its claim that narrow range of topics in exam was result of the coronavirus pandemic

Or Kashti
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Students taking a matriculation exam.
Israeli students taking a matriculation exam.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Or Kashti

The high school civics matriculation exam this summer will not include questions about the High Court of Justice or the conflict between Jews and Arabs, and very little about the rule of law.

On Sunday, the Education Ministry announced the subjects that would be appearing on this summer’s exam, which change from one test to the next. But topics related to aspects of the Jewish character of Israel – as well as the status of Hebrew as the sole official language – have been left almost unchanged.

Many civics teachers have criticized the focus of this summer’s exam, saying that in large measure, it reflects political and religious right-wing views of civics – and regarding what students should be tested on. The Education Ministry “has chosen to ignore any hint of a significant and in-depth discussion of democracy,” one teacher said.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 70Credit: Haaretz

Last weekend, Education Minister Rafi Peretz wrote that because of the coronavirus, he has ordered a series of “concessions” for students taking the exam. This includes reducing the amount of material covered on the test by 25 percent along with disclosing now which topics would be covered.

But officials at the ministry said the choice of the topics was not related to the coronavirus epidemic. In prior years, the tests had already been prepared by this time of the year, they said. As a result of the epidemic, “the ministry hinted that it was ‘forced’ to remove basic topics in teaching about democracy, while in fact the decision was made a long time ago,” one official claimed.

Another official called the announcement regarding the choice of topics “a political tool in the hands of the government indicating to students and teachers what is important and what can be left out.”

In its response the Education Ministry said “from the outset, the matriculation exam only includes 75 of the curriculum material,” and noted that what is not included in this summer’s civics exam was included last winter.

In a notice to teachers on Monday, the national supervisor for civics education, Einat Ohayon, said the topics are repeated in different contexts, but due to the emergency situation, this time teachers should adhere closely to the specific topics on the matriculation exam.

The announcement appeared to be an effort to head off the possibility that civics teachers would attempt to teach material that their students would not be tested on, suggesting that they should toe the line regarding the ministry’s choice of topics.

The topics that will not appear on the exam this summer would be included in the next exam, scheduled for February 2021, the Education Ministry said, adding that “by the nature of things, the exam cannot repeat the same topics every time, nor can it include all of the subjects.”

This summer’s exam will not include consideration of divisions between the country’s Jewish majority and the Arab minority, despite the fact that in the high school civics curriculum, substantial material is devoted to the subject, including the historical roots of the conflict between Jews and Arabs as well as inequality in contemporary Israel and what can be done to address it.

Education Minister Rafi Peretz
Education Minister Rafi PeretzCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg

One civics teacher claimed that the subjects being tested on reflect a “thin and limited version of civics.”

Another said: “It is difficult to ignore the narrower consideration of what the country’s national identity should be, the rights of ethnic minorities and political rights, which still include the possibility of criticizing the government. The subject of the judicial branch was also cut back, and what remains of it are the technical aspects of types of law. Apparently the High Court of Justice is no longer necessary.”

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