Matriculation Reform: High-schoolers Would Write More Term Papers, Take Fewer Tests

The proposed changes presented by Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton are meant to reduce the number of classroom hours for Bible studies, literature, history and civics.

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Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton on Tuesday.
Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton on Tuesday.Credit: Hadas Parush

Israel's Education Ministry revealed additional details on Tuesday of its plans to replace many of the high school matriculation exams in the humanities with a term paper.

The proposed changes are expected to lead to a reduction of about one-fourth in the number of classroom hours for Bible studies, literature, history and civics, to five a week from six for each subject. They are slated to take effect for 10th graders in the 2022-23 school year.

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

These projects will be submitted during 10th and 11th grades and graded by the students’ regular teachers.

In 12th grade students are to write a multidisciplinary term paper on a subject of their choice. The paper will have four chapters, each devoted to one of the four disciplines. They will be graded by proctors who are not members of the school’s faculty external graders, in a method similar to that of the matriculation exams, or bagrut.

But the reform’s implementation was cast in doubt Tuesday when Ran Erez, chair of the Association of Secondary School Teachers, announced that the union opposes it because it has yet to reach agreements with the Finance Ministry on compensation. He made this statement even though on Monday, agreements in principle were reached on most of the issues in dispute.

In March, the ministry officials responsible for each of the four subjects began reviewing options for reducing the volume of material. One option under consideration is allowing individual teachers to decide for themselves which topics to skip.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, who presented the reform at a news conference Tuesday, promised that students will still acquire “the basic knowledge.”

“There are so many texts in literature, Bible and history, and even today, we don’t manage to cover all the material,” she said. “The issue isn’t ‘how much,’ but ‘how.’”

The reform will also “enable children to acquire skills in research, working independently and in groups, the ability to ask questions and the ability to gather information,” she added.

Regarding the union’s complaints, she promised that teachers’ working conditions won’t be harmed and the same number of hours will still be devoted to each subject. Teachers who currently receive extra pay for preparing students for the matriculation exams will receive the same extra pay for helping students write their theses, she added.

Moreover, Shasha-Biton said, the ministry plans to allocate an extra staffing position to each school – a teacher who will be in charge of all the other teachers in these four subjects. That will “contribute to bolstering these subjects and to the view that leadership needs to come from within the schools,” she added.

The Association of University Heads welcomed the reform, saying, “The universities are interested in students with integrative abilities, broad horizons and more fluency in writing and oral presentations.” But it was opposed by several senior Education Ministry officials, who feared that abolishing the matriculation exams would further reduce the humanities’ already low prestige.

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