Israel's Education Reform Will Cut High School Humanities Studies by 25 Percent

Class hours for Bible, civics, history and literature are set to shrink under matriculation shake-up; term papers will replace matriculation exams

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Israel's Education Minister Yifat Shasha Shasha-Biton at conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, in August.
Israel's Education Minister Yifat Shasha Shasha-Biton at conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, in August.Credit: Hadas Parush

Proposed changes to high school matriculation exams in Israel are expected to lead to a reduction of about one-fourth in the number of classroom hours for Bible studies, literature, history and civics, from six hours a week to five for each subject.

Officials in the Education Ministry’s humanities division have been asked to examine the issue, including the possibility of letting teachers choose which study units to drop.

The classroom hours that are freed up as a result of the changes will be used for instruction on writing the multidisciplinary term papers that are expected to replace the matriculation exams in these subjects.

The Education Ministry declined to address the details of the reform and said in a statement that they will be published in an orderly fashion and distributed to teachers and the public.

In February, Haaretz reported that the Education Ministry was planning to replace the matriculation exams in Bible studies, literature, civics and history with an interdisciplinary term paper addressing two of the four areas of study.

The papers are to be submitted in the student’s senior year, and they will be graded by inspectors from the Education Ministry, not by the high school teachers.

The four subjects will be taught at a basic level in the 10th and 11th grades, with testing and grading carried out by members of the teaching staff.

The traditional matriculation exams will be held in only four subjects: math, English, each student’s native language and one science subject.

The reform, which is scheduled to go into effect in the 2022-23 school year, has drawn fierce criticism from educators in the humanities and social sciences.

At a protest conference held about two months ago by the Historical Society of Israel, the chair of the ministry’s history studies committee, Prof. Simcha Goldin of Tel Aviv University, warned against canceling the matriculation exams. “Every subject designated as having an ‘external exam’ is one in which high school principals invest hours and resources,” he said. “If you want to cancel the matriculation exams – cancel all the matriculation exams. But if you leave external exams in certain subjects, the other subjects lose importance and are harmed.”

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton told the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee early last month that the reform with strengthen study of the humanities and develop students’ writing and oral expression skills.

“We’re talking about subjects that are at their lowest point today,” she said. “We have chosen to strengthen the bible, civics, history, and literature subjects.” She added that the Education Ministry “did what was needed pedagogically – accompanying teachers, training and instruction. We’re building the program brick by brick.”

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