High School Math Campaign Was Too Aggressive, Bennett Concedes

Education Minister says focus of the coming school year will be the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification.

11th graders in a Tel Aviv high school taking a test, February 23, 2011.
Nir Kafri

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Monday that the campaign launched last year to get high school pupils to study five units of mathematics was “too aggressive,” although the ministry would continue to encourage such high-level study.

Speaking to a conference of principals from the central region, Bennett spoke of several areas in which he felt the ministry had erred last year. “I admit in retrospect that in this campaign, in terms of the dosage and content, I erred,” he said. “It was too aggressive and gave the feeling that anyone who didn’t do five points was not successful, and that’s not so.”

The “Give Five” campaign, which used former President Shimon Peres as its spokesman, aimed to increase the number of students taking the highest level matriculation exam in math from less than 10,000 to 18,000. It was the ministry’s flagship campaign last year. As the matriculation exams in math loomed last year, the National Student Council launched an online campaign against the plan entitled, “Even without five, you’re successful.”

Student council chairman Eliav Batito warned the ministry against making five-point math a new “golden calf” to worship. “This is a real battle for the character of the educational system – is the system aspiring to values and fulfilling one’s potential or solely to achievements?” he asked. “Values and excellence don’t contradict one another, they can coexist.”

Bennett explained that the program didn’t just aim to push students, but to make high-level math accessible to everyone. The drop in Israeli students’ math achievements, he said, didn’t only harm high-tech, “but the weaker strata. If you were born in Ofakim you couldn’t study five-point math because there was no major. No one will convince me that’s okay. God didn’t distribute more brains to certain places.”

Bennett also declared at the conference that the focus of the coming school year would be the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification.