Proposed Reform to Start School at Age 4

Pushing back the start of compulsory education to age 4, high school matriculation exams to age 16 and the completion of the baccalaureate to age 19 are the most notable articles in the educational reform drafted by Dr. Shimshon Shoshani and Prof. Uzi Arad and slated to be presented at next week's Herzliya Conference. The proposal calls for making post-secondary education - envisioned as beginning at age 16 and ending at age 19 - free of charge. "If the education system continues to fix potholes, we'll get nowhere. We need a new road," Shoshani said this weekend.

In their position paper, Shoshani and Arad wrote that the main goals of the plan are to "fulfill the potential of every individual for greater academic achievement" and "optimize the educational structure and curriculum in Israel so that graduates just starting their professional lives are on equal footing with their counterparts from developed countries despite the time devoted to military or other national service."

Another target is to enable about half of all secondary students to complete an undergraduate degree even before beginning their army service, thus "strengthening the economy by increasing GDP thanks to the earlier entry of graduates into the workforce."

Dr. Shoshani served as director general of the Education Ministry twice, under ministers Yitzhak Navon, Shulamit Aloni and Amnon Rubinstein.

Prof. Adar, chair of the Herzliya Conference, was foreign policy adviser to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is the head of the Institute for Policy and Strategy, The Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. Conference participants will present and discuss research carried out over the past year specifically for this forum.

Under the new proposal, education would begin at the age of four (first grade) and end at age 19. Attendance would be compulsory only to age 16, but education would be free until age 19. At 16, students would take the matriculation (bagrut) exams: Those who fail would continue to study so as to retake the tests, while those earning a matriculation certificate could go straight into undergraduate studies or other post-secondary programs (such as practical engineering, pre-army or vocational studies). The age of army enlistment would be 18 for those completing a two-year post-secondary degree, or 19 for those completing a bachelor's degree.

"The new structure would allow for 15 consecutive years of study prior to being drafted," the proposal says. "The new system would achieve in 15 years of tuition the educational output that the old system achieved in 17 years."

According to the proposal, "The Israel Defense Forces authorities require the proposed change because it contributes both to improving the personnel enlisting in the regular and standing armies and to reducing somewhat the training burden the army has taken on by necessity."

The report also states that the changes will lead to increased pay for all full-time teachers, while pointing out that "an appropriate level of salary does not mean a uniform pay raise for all instructional staff."

"The normal path of young people in the West is 12 years of schooling and another three or four years to earn an academic degree," Arad says. "In Israel the average course of life is disturbed irrevocably because of army service. As a result we are at a serious disadvantage compared to other countries. Instead of contributing to themselves and the state, three years of output, amounting to billions of shekels, are lost. The plan we are presenting for public debate, in effect, proposes getting a jump on the world," Arad says.

According to Arad, the proposal would not necessarily require more money, since making the system more efficient will create great savings, while part of the increase in GDP would be used for areas such as health and education.

Shoshani quit his Education Ministry job after then-minister Navon rejected an early version of the plan.

Dr. Yossi Dahan, a member of the Adva Center on Equality and Social Justice in Israel and the academic director of the human rights program at the Law School of Ramat Gan College, says the proposal "expresses the instrumentalization of education: Questions such as what kind of adult is created are not being discussed, and the emphasis is on training students as labor, in order to increase GDP."

In addition to asking whether starting first grade at the age of four meets the emotional and other needs of children this age, Dahan criticizes Shoshani and Arad's concept of "excellence": "When resources are limited, the practical definition of excellence is alloting many resources to few students. The proposed program creates separate tracks, particularly at the post-secondary level.... Those who will benefit from the program are those who already have an advantage. It's an accelerated track for the socioeconomic elite," Dahan said.