Israeli Kids Aren't Ready for the Future

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Elementary school students listen to their teachers in their classroom in Mevaseret, Israel, last month

The first coronavirus year highlighted some of the failures of the Israeli education system: pedagogy that is irrelevant to a fast-changing reality; outdated infrastructure, from the schools themselves to the last of the tablets that are necessary for remote learning; centralized organization that dictates from on high a tangled mass of sometimes contradictory directives and suppresses grassroots educational initiatives.

These failures did not come as a surprise. Rather, they are the predictable consequence of a (lack of) policy that has continued undisturbed for many years, as the report issued by the State Comptroller’s Office Monday makes clear. Make no mistake about the message conveyed in the report: Israeli schools are not preparing their students for the future.

A major chapter in the report focuses on the educational system’s suitability to the 21st century and how well it teaches the skills that students will need in order to join a changing workforce. The criticism focused on studies in secondary schools in the period before the coronavirus pandemic. Scholars and experts on the future job market have reached a consensus regarding the required skills. These include critical thinking, problem-solving, independent study, cooperation and creativity.

It’s hard to find a trace of any of these in the activities of the Education Ministry, not just because of the opposition in principle to anything that might be perceived as critical thinking – as is evidenced by the lessons in history, civics and other subjects from which every dilemmas has been excised.

Instead of helping students develop curiosity about the world and the ability to analyze reality from a few viewpoints, ministry officials about the type of skills to require from students; policy documents from recent years dealt with no fewer than 57 different skills. Yet no such document was ever translated into a plan that could actually be implemented in schools.

According to the comptroller, about half of the curriculum in the middle schools was approved more than a decade ago and has not been updated since. The “meaningful learning” reform proposed by former Education Minister Shay Piron was never examined, but abandoned in favor of the very different emphases preferred by his successor Naftali Bennett.

In the absence of a new vision, the routine is oppressive: It’s surprising that only about 40 percent of high school students think school doesn’t prepare them for life and doesn’t give them the tools that will enable them to join the workforce. Another expression of the flight from the future was the infrastructure upgrade plan, under which only 1.5 percent of classrooms were renovated (with a preference for wealthy communities).

Their poor performance on matriculation exams and international tests make it clear that a large proportion of Israeli students complete 12 years of school without essential capabilities. The results will undoubtedly be felt in the coming years. The educational system must undergo a thorough reform in order to adapt it to the challenges of the 21st century.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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