Ben Gurion University.
(photo credit: WWW.PIKIWIKI.ORG.IL)
MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) established a committee on Tuesday to examine how to make the humanities more attractive to prospective students.
It was established during a meeting of the Knesset Science and Technology Committee on the “collapse” of the humanities field in higher education institutions in Israel.
The panel discussion was initiated by Gafni, MK Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid) and MK Gila Gamliel (Likud).
Gafni appointed Prof.
Gabriel Motzkin, director of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute to head the committee, which is to be comprised of representatives of the Council for Higher Education, the Education Ministry, the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities as well as representatives from academic colleges and the Science, Technology and Space Ministry. The committee is set to present recommendations within three months’ time.
“We have become a materialistic society. Students go to learn business administration rather than the humanities.
There is no ‘balance of the soul’ among youth to learn things that are beyond being an attorney or a hi-tech employee,” said Gafni.
Gamliel proposed that universities should offer free tuition to students wishing to study humanities in an effort to recruit students to the field.
“Financial hardships affect the choice of subject matter. The problem is that as the people of the book we do not provide the necessary resources to foster the humanities. If students expect to finance their studies, this obviously presents a hardship that affects them,” she said.
Prof. Malka Rappaport Hovav, chairman of the Steering Committee on the Humanities told the panel that to date some 17 percent of students pursue a degree in humanities at one of the major universities in Israel.
She explained that the figure drops even more drastically when taking into account studies at academic colleges, which she explained attract many more students than universities but do not offer degrees in the humanities.
“It is obvious to us that the decline in the humanities stems from the fact that most [students] approaching higher education think that they need to study in order to gain professional training and the field of humanities will not help them,” she said.
As such, Rappaport Hovav said that efforts were underway, in cooperation with the Planning and Budgetary Committee of the Council for Higher Education, to improve the curriculum for the humanities as well as combine humanities studies with other fields.
Prof. Roslyn Koren from Bar Ilan University told the committee that the Education Ministry and the academic institutions should address the issue together.
“Already in high school the excellent students are sent to learn mathematics and physics while the weak students are sent to study humanities. There is no pride in the field.”
According to Koren, all students should be required to take courses in the humanities since it provides valuable skills not learned in the exact sciences.
Motzkin concurred and said: “We cannot place all the blame solely on the universities, but also on high school studies and education in general. We need to start the interest already there [lower education system].”