The Education Ministry seeks to encourage pupils to excel through love and faith, Education Minister Shai Piron told the Knesset Education Committee Monday, after facing criticism from ministers in other parties for his policy of canceling exams.
The Education Committee also authorized an order by Piron to require students to attend 11th and 12th grade in 84 municipal authorities, which make up 20.06 percent of students in those grades throughout the country. The order applies to areas in which 1,193 teens are not in schools.
Piron also vowed that public education will soon have a different appearance, saying his motto is “love, believe and excel.”
“We cannot cover ourselves up with tests and forms that prevent us from asking questions about the character of our education,” he stated. “In a world in which knowledge is so accessible, there is a deep change in authority. A change is needed.”
As for his decision to cancel the Meitzav assessment exams, Piron said “measuring [achievements] is central and important and I will put indicators in place so that we don’t regress. Israel cannot give up on academic excellence; we will not give up on Nobel Prize winners.” At the same time, he said “measurement tools are a means, not the end for everything” and that when the Education Ministry does not “raise the whip of measurement over teachers and principals,” and gives educators freedom instead, schools have better results.
Piron’s comments followed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s denunciation of his plans in Sunday’s government meeting, in which Likud ministers came out against Yesh Atid’s education policies.
“It’s essential that we focus on subjects like Torah, history and literature,” Netanyahu said of Piron’s proposal to cancel the bagrut (matriculation) exams in those areas, echoing criticism by former education minister and current Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar.
“A subject without clear goals [for students] and measurements will be viewed as unimportant by students.”
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who did not finish high school, wondered how achievements in topics like Torah and literature can be quantitatively measured.
Piron told ministers that education for values is no less important than doing well on exams.
Netanyahu described his personal experiences to express disapproval of Piron’s plans: “In my life, I participated in frameworks for high achievers: In the army, in academia and economics.
They shared characteristics like working together toward a shared goal and aiming for excellence. Excellence and achievements are based on setting targets and measuring whether they’re reached.”
The prime minister also expressed concern about reaching international standards if achievements are not being measured.
“In recent years, we achieved unprecedented achievements in international exams. We have to continue this trend,” he added.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni took Netanyahu’s side in a Facebook post Monday, saying that, while as a teenager she would have preferred going to the beach rather than studying for bagrut exams, cancelling them would be a mistaken and hastily-made decision.
“I agree that the education system needs to teach students to think and awaken their curiosity and not just send them to memorize and repeat information, but in our world, exams are the accepted way of teaching and measuring learning,” she wrote. “Yes, what can we do, the world is competitive, and ignoring that can leave Israeli children behind.”
Livni suggested adding research papers as an element in grading to make exams less of a focal point in education, without canceling them.
In Monday’s Education Committee meeting, Piron described the actions his ministry is taking to prepare for the new school year, which begins Tuesday.
“I’m never satisfied, so as far as I’m concerned, the situation is far from where I want it to be. I would have liked to change many things, like giving more rights to contract teachers, improving salaries for teachers and assistants and more, but I had to decide on an order of priorities in a difficult economic time,” Piron explained.
“The dilemma wasn’t what to do, but what to do first,” he added.
The Education Minister pointed to three areas that must be improved in order to shrink gaps between students: Differential budgets for schools, trade schools and regulating parents’ payments.
“I promise to make every effort to come up with a new plan for next school year,” Piron said.
Knesset Education Committee chairman Amram Mitzna (Hatnua) commended Piron for “breathing new life into the Education Ministry” by making changes.
“I hope that next year we’ll distance ourselves from populism and examine current problems and challenges. It takes a long time to make long-term changes that are not just cosmetic,” Mitzna stated.
On Tuesday, the Education Committee plans to visit Reut high school in Jerusalem to observe the start of the new school year.