The government must transform the school system “into a place that is more relevant” to the modern needs of its students, Education Minister Shai Piron said on Wednesday.

“The new high school diploma has to reflect a person who has a sense of criticism, a person who has a dream and responsibility,” he said.

Piron was addressing participants in a panel on “Education: National Resilience and National Security,” held at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) 7th Annual International Conference in Tel Aviv.

Achieving national resilience through education can only come through long-term programs that tackle questions of identity, prepare students for the 21st century and demonstrate how knowledge can be an inspiration, the minister explained.

“We need trust-enabling and shattering of the fear,” Piron said.

If all goes according to Piron’s plans, widespread reforms are set to take root in the educational system for the 2014-15 academic year, with matriculation exams beginning in the 11th grade rather than the 10th, in order to encourage more in-depth learning. The exams would cover approximately 60-70 percent of the material learned, with the remaining 30% to fall into a student research project.

Called “Israel Moves Up a Grade,” the proposed overhaul of the educational system advocates increased trust, pedagogical continuity from preschool to higher education, new methods of academic measurement, improved educational technology and academic excellence.

In order to achieve an optimal setting for learning, Piron emphasized the need to remove fear from the environment and make schools a more comfortable place. He advocated giving teachers more independence in building their classroom curricula, and criticized the fact that secular and religious students study in such separate settings.

“Schools have become places that are poor in spirit. Students feel that nobody kindles a light inside of them,” Piron said. “In many respects our schools have become irrelevant.”

Prof. Yara Bar-On, president of Oranim Academic College of Education, said she advocates a cohesive system predicated upon social solidarity and emotional fitness for students.

Supporting the idea of increased autonomy for individual schools, Bar-On spoke of the need to “narrow the headquarters” – the Education Ministry. The ministry, she explained, should have a very clear policy and provide tools for control and accountability, in order to enable proper reform across the system.

“The teacher is a key element in creating this reform,” Bar-On said. “We’re talking about a change that starts at the top but at the same time we have a systematic change that is going bottom-up.”

Echoing her sentiments, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Meir Elran, a senior research fellow at INSS, added that an application of Bar-On’s ideas would “empower the resilience of the Israeli people.”

“If the Education Ministry agrees with what we’re saying then we are going to share all our capabilities and our partners, and happily so,” Elran said.

To this question of partnership, Piron responded passionately, telling the previous speaker that “you cannot have a discourse with ‘ifs.’” He added, however, that he does believe in all of the ideas presented throughout the session and signed many protocols reflecting that fact.

“When you talk about trust you cannot cast the entire question of trust on the education system,” Piron said.

“The problem of trust is the problem of the entire Israeli society at large.”

Lidar Gravé-Lazi contributed to this report.

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