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Education reform: 40% less 'bagruiot,' mandatory 3-year volunteer service
By LIDAR GRAVÉ-LAZI
01/08/2014
Education minister presents long-term educational reform plan set to take effect next academic year.
 
Matriculation exams have become the “golden calf” of the Israeli education system, Education Minister Shai Piron said Wednesday, while presenting widespread reforms in the education system.

According to the plan, set to take effect in the 2014-15 academic year, matriculation exams will begin in 11th grade rather than in 10th, in an effort to encourage more meaningful and in-depth learning, Piron said in a press conference in Tel Aviv.

The exams are to cover roughly 60-70 percent of the material learned, with the remaining 30% to be covered by a student research project.

The new plan, called “Israel moves up a grade,” is the result of the cooperative efforts of professionals from the Education Ministry, academic experts, school principals, teachers, students and parents. It is based on a number of key pillars: advocating increased trust in all facets of the educational system, pedagogical continuity from preschool to higher education, new methods of academic measurement, improved educational technology and academic excellence.

“The matriculation exams direct the content, theory and methods of learning. They create learning without depth, develop a culture of summaries, a culture of focuses and other concepts that have grown to serve the vision of the ‘eligible percentage,’” said Piron.

Despite Piron’s past outspoken intention to reduce the number of mandatory matriculation exams to only four core subjects, this stage of the plan does not eliminate any subjects. Instead, all non-core subjects would be clustered into three categories: Hebrew, which includes language and literature; world and state knowledge, including history and civics; and heritage and culture, which includes Bible and Talmud studies, Jewish philosophy and religious studies.

Students would take exams in each individual subject, though their final grade would reflect the average of each exam in its group cluster. English and mathematics would continue to remain individual subjects and each student is to be required to complete at least one unit of science.

According to Piron, the plan calls for a 40% reduction in the number of matriculation exams each student will have to take.

While students still require 21 matriculation credits, there will be a significant reduction in the number of test per subject; for example, in the past 15 tests were required, under the plan 10 would be sufficient.

In addition, in order to be eligible for a matriculation certificate, students would be required to complete three years of individual and group volunteer services in the community, totaling some 180 hours.

The second major facet intended in the reform includes the cancellation of the psychometric exam as a prerequisite for acceptance into universities for students who receive a high average grade on their matriculation exams. This point has yet to be finalized, though higher education and ministry professionals continue to work on the details.

Today, universities accept students based on an average of the psychometric and the matriculation exams.

The reform would allow proficient students to apply to a wider range of university fields, such as medicine and engineering, without having to undertake the psychometric exam. Students who do not receive a high score on their matriculation exams or who were ineligible to receive a matriculation diploma will, under the intended reforms, still be able to apply to universities using their psychometric score.

According to recent figures released in the State of the Child Report of 2013, more than half of Israeli students were ineligible for the bagrut (matriculation exam).

These reforms are intended to make higher education more accessible to underprivileged populations, as well as decrease the education gap between completing high school and acceptance to university.

According to Hebrew University of Jerusalem president Menachem Ben-Sasson, who is also chairman of the Committee of University Heads and part of the panel at Wednesday’s press conference, “the psychometric exam will now only serve as a secondary option for students who were unable to achieve their maximum potential during high school studies.”

The plan calls for more autonomy for teachers and schools. All public elementary schools are to transfer to a self-management system, allowing for increased pedagogical and organizational flexibility. Schools would independently decide what to teach and how to teach for 25% of the total hours.

The idea is to allow schools to use these hours to expand in a particular field or integrate a curriculum formulated by the school.

The education minister concluded the press conference by speaking directly to students and parents, “This program was designed for you. It was designed to expand your knowledge, to inspire you and to require you to do everything possible so that the State of Israel will become the exemplary society that we all dream of.”

In conjunction with the minister’s unveiling of the educational reforms, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev announced the launch of a pilot program, aptly named “Path to Academics,” which aims to enable undergraduate applicants the opportunity to apply and be accepted to the university without taking the psychometric exam.

Under the program, designed with the approval of the Council for Higher Education and the Israeli National Institute for Testing and Evaluation, students will participate in a number of courses, including mathematical thinking and English at a university level. At the end of the course, the students will take assessment tests, which along with their final course grades will be weighted in the same manner as the psychometric exam. The students can then apply directly to any department in the university with these scores.

“Psychometric courses do not promote the candidates in a personal matter, but only predict the success of their academic studies with tricks and patents for the speedy resolution of questions. In contrast, this type of course is success in itself, because it provides students numerous tools to prepare them for further academic studies and helps them become more successful in final exams and in their studies,” said Prof. Zvi Hacohen, rector of the university, who initiated the program.
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