Israeli High-school Students Lament Exam Period Amid Gaza Rocket Fire

'There are always explosions, and you have to run to the safe room. By the time it’s over you’ve lost your concentration for studying'

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Gil Shlomo, a senior from Sderot, and her theater friends, in November.
Gil Shlomo, a senior from Sderot, and her theater friends, in November. Credit: Courtesy of Gil Shlomo
Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri

Ofri Heitman of Kibbutz Or Haner is rehearsing the play she wrote as part of her bagrut matriculation exam. She is 17, and a theater major in high school. She tries to hold the intensive rehearsals every time she sees that the situation is quiet, when she meets with her co-creators and they rehearse together.

Accustomed to life on the Gaza border, Heitman is aware that her plans could be interrupted at any moment, and that the frequency of the rocket launches in recent days is probably not a good sign. Yesterday she ended the rehearsals early due to the security situation. “We always try to get in more and more rehearsals as long as nothing is happening, because nobody knows what will happen tomorrow,” she explains.

Like many students her age who live in the region, studying in the shadow of danger is not new to her. Only last week a siren sounded in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, a moment before the students began the matriculation exam in Arabic. From conversations with teens from the Gaza communities who are now taking exams, it turns out that there are many difficulties, and it’s doubtful whether the leniency granted by the Education Ministry – additional time for the exams during escalations in violence – provides a solution.

Last week Heitman took the matriculation exam in mathematics. She says she studied for the exam for hours on end, repeatedly solved exercises and felt confident on the morning of the test. Shortly after the exam notebooks were distributed, the sound of an explosion, which is not unusual in the region, shook the windows in the classroom. Heitman says that after the explosion, she began wondering whether her family was okay, and she found it hard to concentrate. “Your thoughts start to race around in your head and your concentration goes into the garbage. It’s sad because you work hard and study. Afterward I realized that I made mistakes that a first-grader would make.”

On Thursday Yehonatan Assouline, a junior at Amit High School in Sderot, will take the matriculation exam in history. In recent days he has been devoting three hours almost every day to studying the material. Assouline says he finds it difficult to maintain a study regimen when the security situation deteriorates and he has to interrupt his studies.

“There are always explosions here, either incendiary balloons or IDF attacks, and when there’s a Code Red you have to run to the safe room. By the time everything is over, 20 minutes have passed, you’ve lost your concentration, and then you have to try to get back to the material.”

Assouline says that on Thursday he and his friends had planned to conduct a study marathon before the exam in one of their homes, but had to cancel it. “Before the meeting there was a Code Red in the city that spoiled our plans. Two guys canceled because their parents wouldn’t let them leave the house. Even if we’re in a house with a safe room, there’s still a fear about the trip back and forth.”

Assouline says that he isn’t afraid, but if he’s “in a studying mood, deep into my concentration, and all of a sudden there’s an explosion or a Code Red, that disturbs me.” Although he himself has no difficulty with the exams, he says many of his friends feel that the extra time which the Education Ministry offers is not a solution.

An IDF tank on the Gaza borderCredit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Gil Shlomo, a senior from Sderot, lit a torch last year on Independence Day. That year she switched from studying math at a 5-point level down to 4 points, which she attributes mainly to the security situation and the cancellation of school days because of it.

Since the start of the current school year, Shlomo says about 14 school days have been canceled. “We don’t get any bonus in the exams, not even five points,” she stresses. “This year there was a matriculation exam in Bible and we managed to finish the material only a week before the exam. We’re constantly under pressure to have enough time, something that children in the center of the country don’t have to deal with.”

Shlomo hopes that “the coming month will be relatively quiet,” so that she’ll be able to arrive prepared to the matriculation exam in theater, where she majors in alongside Heitman. “We’re having a lot of rehearsals, and because of the situation we already canceled many hours of rehearsals in the first part of the year,” she says.

Shlomo doesn’t conceal her difficulties due to the security situation. “Some of the students feel pressure and anxiety when there’s escalation in the south,” she says. “Sometimes we don’t sleep at night, whether it’s because of the IDF strikes or out of fear of the sirens, and then we also lose hours of sleep.”

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