Israel Censored Questions About Migrants on International Test

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Students sit for a matriculation exam
Students sit for a matriculation examCredit: Emil Salman
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The Education Ministry deleted a number of questions on an international test to check students’ “global competence,” including attitudes toward migrants, respect for other cultures and commitment to international action.

However, the official report published by the ministry last year barely addressed the decision to censor so many questions.

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It has now emerged that the questions were deleted because they dealt with “political views,” as ministry representatives informed Heela Goren, a Ph.D. candidate in education who is researching the subject. The only other country to censor questions like Israel did was the United Arab Emirates.

In 2015, UNESCO included global citizenship among the knowledge and skills required for sustainable development. In 2018, as part of the last Program for International Student Assessment examinations to evaluate education systems, 15-year-olds worldwide were given a questionnaire to assess their global competence.

The Israeli report, published in October 2020, explains that such competence can be seen “in the encounter between people in various countries, but also in encounters between people in the same country – whether migrants, foreign workers or refugees.” By this definition, global competence manifests itself in four ways: “the ability to examine issues and situations of local, global and cultural importance”; “the ability to understand and respect different points of view and worldviews”; “the ability to create positive interaction with people of a different national, ethnic religious, social, culture or gender viewpoints”; and “the ability and tendency to take action that promotes sustainable development and collective well-being.”

These skills were tested by a 12-part questionnaire. The national testing authority, the body responsible for international testing at the Education Ministry, removed four sections of the questionnaire, apparently because it found them too controversial. The official report mentions this only in a single sentence. Footnotes state that this was associated with the Protection of Privacy Law and “political positions of the students.” In the test administered to ultra-Orthodox students, the report states that questions that did not “conform to their world of values” were also deleted.

Goren’s doctorate, at University College in London, addresses education and global citizenship within Israeli communities. In the full OECD report, she discovered the questions the Education Ministry deleted. Some ask opinions on migrant children, such as whether they should be entitled to the same educational opportunities as other children in the country, or whether migrants should be allowed to pursue their own lifestyle.

Sections that dealt with students’ involvement in global issues were also censored, including questions on whether they signed petitions on environmental or social issues or whether they boycotted products or companies for political, ethical or environmental reasons, on awareness of international problems, and on whether they consider themselves citizens of the world.

Another section that was deleted had questions about respecting people from different cultural backgrounds and whether people with a different background were their equals. Such questions, Goren said, “have a local connection, of day-to-day experience,” as opposed to another section, which focused on interest in other cultures, which is “more theoretical.”

The full international report also revealed which countries made changes in the questionnaire. According to Goren, out of 39 countries that administered the test, only Israel and the UAE removed more than one section (the section on migrants was removed by France, Malaysia, Peru and Singapore).

When Goren sought an explanation from the Education Ministry’s testing authority, she was told that the changes were made “in consultation with the OECD and with its approval,” and that the main changes were made when questions did not conform to the demands of Israel’s Privacy Protection Law.

Goren was subsequently informed that “all questions about political perspective and private feelings, which found risk infringement of privacy and were not in a learning context,” were removed. However, this claim contradicts the anonymity of international tests and the fact that last year, the ministry assured schools that results of individual schools would not be published.

“The deletion of significant parts of the questionnaire raises questions regarding the willingness of the system to accept a picture that might emphasize contradictions between global discourse and the Israeli reality,” Goren said.

The Education Ministry said in response: “Israel has chosen to invest research efforts to test students’ global competence. In so doing it has shown the importance it ascribes to acquiring these skills by graduates of its education system. The rich, illuminating and instructive research data will serve the education system in the future.”

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