Parents of children in the school system got text messages to their phones from the Education Ministry on Monday, the first day of school, wishing them “a year of meaningful learning and adapting learning to the 21st century.” The message was just the most recent example of the ministry’s efforts to market itself and the minister at its head. One might be willing to indulge in this self-promotion if it weren’t for the many question marks hovering over a large proportion of the promises Shay Piron has made during his 18 months as education minister.
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One of the main items in the “meaningful learning” reform being promoted by Piron is the cancellation of the psychometric exams. “We will change the acceptance requirements for higher education,” Piron said at one of his press conferences about the reform. “We’ve decided that from now on, every pupil will need either a matriculation certificate or the psychometric exam.” But a report on Tuesday in the Hebrew version of Haaretz indicates that this promise is quite premature, and even if such a plan ever emerges at the end of a multiyear process, it won’t be as sweeping and definitive as the ministry is describing it.
According to sources at universities who are familiar with the discussions being held on the matter with the Education Ministry, general guidelines will soon be released regarding university admission on the strength of a matriculation certificate alone. Even so, this option will be reserved for a relatively small number of pupils, primarily those whose matriculation average is particularly high. According to senior university officials, doing away with the psychometric exam is not on the agenda, and it will remain a central component in assessing candidates for various departments in the higher education system. “The psychometric exam can’t be cancelled today, and we have no plans to cancel it,” said one official.
This isn’t the only example of the discrepancy between the ministry’s promises and their partial and tardy fulfillment. So it was with reducing the number of matriculation exams, differential funding for schools based on socioeconomic criteria, the battle against racism and hatred, changes to the school calendar, reducing parent payments and resolving the issue of subcontracted teachers.
There’s no doubt that Israel’s educational system needs to be refreshed and adapted to the 21st century. But making promises and spouting slogans are not part of the cultural and organizational changes needed.