Editorial

The Freedom to Educate

Israel's education system must be adapted to the values of the 21st century. But under the current education minister, it has instead been coopted to instill the values of religious Zionism

AP

The widespread surprise that follows nearly every report about Israeli students’ performance on international tests is mostly indicative of the public’s capacity for repression: Again and again, astonishment is expressed over the at-best mediocre achievements of Israeli schoolchildren, and about the vast disparities among different groups. 

Precisely because of the self-satisfaction that has typified our recent education ministers, and which has proven to be myopic, we must not ignore the warning by Andreas Schleicher, director of the OECD Program for International Student Assessment, that “the state of the education system could lead to socioeconomic disaster” (Lior Dattel, TheMarker, May 21). 

Schleicher is responsible, among other things, for the PISA test, which assesses the math, science and reading skills of 15 year olds. Unlike other international tests, which focus on taught material, the PISA tests aim to evaluate the skills required to meet the challenges of the 21st century, including creativity, critical thinking and teamwork. Based on the results of the most recent test, administered in 2015, the Education Ministry has no reason to brag: A fifth of Israeli students failed all three sections of the test – far higher than the average rate of all the countries that took part in the test. 

The disparities within Israel in student achievement in sciences, math and reading are among the highest recorded by the international assessment test. Education Ministry officials are well aware of the need for a national program to reduce these disparities. Yet even though they take pains to raise an outcry, they’re less enthusiastic about actually correcting the problem, as evidenced by the existence of such large gaps over such a long period of time. Too many students are being left behind – whether because successive governments have been afraid to make the ultra-Orthodox study the core curriculum and train them for the working world, or because of the longstanding racist neglect of Arab students, who, even today, still receive per-pupil funding that is tens of percent lower than that given their Jewish peers.

Aside from the need to reduce these gaps, which determine the course of students’ lives, Schleicher stressed the need to update Israeli teaching methods, which continue to bore and depress generations of schoolchildren. 

Experience from around the world shows that such change is not possible unless the Education Ministry shows faith in and provides backing to its teachers and principals. “It’s not enough just to know how to do equations,” Schleicher stressed. But our Education Ministry, under the leadership of Naftali Bennett, does not put faith in its teachers and principals; it does not support them or allow them freedom of action. Quite the contrary. It wants them quiet, disciplined and obedient.

To improve Israeli students’ performance, the education system must be adapted to the values of the 21st century. But under the current education minister, it has instead been coopted to instill the values of religious Zionism.

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