Finally! An Israeli political party has declared fixing our education system to
be one of its primary campaign issues, along with an impressive plan to address
the current failures.
Based on the research carried out while studying
for my master’s in Education, and on 20 years of administrative and teaching
experience, I support the plan proposed by Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party. I
hope that parents and educators throughout Israel will study the plan and do the
The plan’s premise is that we need to completely overhaul the
education system. Our plummeting to 41st place in the world in math and science
and 37th in reading comprehension reflect problems at the core of the education
system. Minor reforms cannot correct these deficiencies.
With that in
mind, Lapid made the Kennedy-esque declaration that in 10 years Israel will be
restored to its rightful place among the top 10 countries in the world in
Success in education relates to three realms: students,
teachers, and actual educational content. The first element of the Lapid plan is
a renewed commitment to teachers. This begins with increased salaries so we are
no longer the only OCED country in which beginning teachers’ salaries are lower
than the average starting salary across the workforce.
It continues with
significantly improving teacher training and empowering teachers to have more
flexibility in how they teach in their classrooms. Principals and teachers must
run their schools – not regional boards, and certainly not the Education
Ministry. All of the above will create an enthusiastic and motivated teaching
corps and we will, no doubt, see a burst of creativity from our talented
The second element is a renewed commitment to meeting the
needs of every single student in the country. This begins with funding
all their educational needs, including extra tutoring and special education
It includes spending at least 26 percent more on the needs of
children in the periphery, in line with other OCED countries, to close the gaps
between them and students in the more affluent city centers. This commitment
also demands wheelchair access to all schools, legislating zero tolerance for
discrimination in schools and following up with strict enforcement.
most significant overhaul, however, relates to the actual education itself, and
its current focus on matriculation exams.
It is well documented that when
the entire aim of a course is to pass the final exam, teachers teach for the
test and students are rarely inspired to love these subjects or internalize
their lessons. The unfortunate result of the 152 matriculation exam options in
the current system is that students are robbed of a true liberal arts education
and lose out on the chance for the personal growth which comes from learning
Finland, which leads the world in educational
achievement, has just five mandatory matriculation exams. The Lapid plan calls
for only four: in Hebrew, English, mathematics, and one elective. These subjects
include specific informational goals, for which teaching for the tests is
However, in other mandatory subjects, such as Bible, heritage,
history and science, teachers will be empowered and free to teach in creative
ways, as they choose. This will expand their students’ minds and truly
inculcate a love for learning and internalizing these subjects.
As all educators and parents will agree, a large percentage of students are not
interested in a classic education, even when taught in the manner described
above. The fact that only 48.1% of students nationwide pass their matriculation
exams proves this point.
These students are not only incapable of moving
on to university but they also have nothing else in hand to enable them to
sustain their future families. As a teacher, it pained me to see these students,
whom I could identify from the first day of school.
They were forced to
waste their time in a framework which was not only unproductive but actually
damaging to them. Lapid proposes that at least half of the country’s schools
become technological, vocational schools, geared to each sector in the same
manner as schools are currently designated – secular, religious Zionist and
This will enable those non-classical students to
flourish and be prepared for life with the tools necessary to earn a living with
a professional certificate in hand upon graduation from high school. This will
also free teachers to truly inspire the more classic students with a liberal
arts education without expending their energy on students who don’t want to be
there and simply cannot succeed.
One other aspect of Lapid’s plan truly
takes our future into consideration. Aside from the core curriculum, the plan
calls for special courses and programs geared to breaking down barriers and
Religious students must be exposed to the great secular
leaders of the state and come to understand that secular Israelis also live with
values. Secular students must learn more about the religious and have greater
familiarity with their Jewish heritage. In Lapid’s own words, “A student cannot
graduate without having had exposure to a page of the Talmud.”
wonder where the funding to implement this plane will come from. Lapid’s team
includes financial experts who have detailed how funds are already available for
these proposals and how even more money will become available through his
This is especially true in light of the resources saved by cutting
back on matriculation exams and downsizing the Education Ministry’s mammoth
regional and national bureaucracy.
Lapid’s plan addresses the most
pressing needs and corrects the areas of failure with regard to the three
elements needed to succeed in education. It provides for relevant, life
preparing and life altering curricula and programs while cultivating an
atmosphere that will energize enthusiastic and professional teachers. Both of
these will produce engaged and inspired students.
I hope citizens of
Israel are open-minded enough to embrace this plan. If we do, we can buckle up
and prepare ourselves for an exciting ride with the actual implementation of
this 10-year plan to restore Israel’s educational superiority. This will inspire
a new generation of educated and enthusiastic youth prepared to live meaningful
and productive lives.
The author holds rabbinic ordination from Ner
Israel Rabbinical College and a master’s in Education from Johns Hopkins
University. He is an author, educator and political activist, most recently as
chairman of Yesh Atid in Beit Shemesh. www.rabbilipman.com.