Israel’s schools can still be improved

There’s a formula for educational success, but it requires persistence.

April 29, 2019 23:48
3 minute read.

A CLASSROOM. (photo credit: REUTERS)

How do you raise a generation that achieves good learning and cares for society as the same time? The brightest minds from Singapore to San Diego have uncovered the three-pronged formula: a continuous, long-term reform that remains intact even when education ministers or governments change; developing a perception of teachers as the “builders of the nation,” and making teaching a coveted, well-remunerated profession; and finally, structuring educational institutions in a way that allows implementing these policies.

While many schools in Israel are showing signs of educational achievement combined with social equality, in the absence of comprehensive strategy and system-wide commitment, these sporadic improvements will never mature into a nation-wide accomplishment that places Israel among those countries which provide the best education.

Transformation must start with legislation. The state educational law must merge all movements under a single, core program aligned with the times. It should be complemented by a “teaching profession law” which – similar to other specialties – will set forward the qualifications for becoming and educator and teacher. Finally, the legislation should enact a reform of at least 10 years in duration, one that newly-appointed politicians will not be able to modify so that it has time to take root, grow and bear fruit without external interference.

The critical mass of teachers’ training should be shifted from certification courses and other forms of crash courses into master’s degrees taught in academic institutions. These curricula will be taught according to the Higher Education Council’s framework, combining theoretical studies and a hands-on practicum. At the end of the training, new teachers will be provided with a lengthy induction process, during which they will receive professional support from their peers and their alma mater, and work only part-time, in order to ease their introduction to teaching. The induction process should be complemented with ongoing professional development including independent research, teamwork and advanced specialization studies funded generously by the government. Third-sector involvement in this training process should be kept to the very minimum.

Learning itself should undergo a transformation as well, to become multidisciplinary, project and problem-focused, and making extensive use of technological tools that enable fast access to information, data and processes. This learning should seek to develop the skills and capabilities required in the modern work-world. Knowledge will continue to matter, but in a world in which knowledge paradigms change quickly, and in which it is impossible and unnecessary to know “everything.” One should focus on selective content, which the learner helps choose, internalizing its underlying principles, and most importantly, understanding the context. This would make the question of “Why should I learn this at all?” totally redundant.

The curricula should include, among others, subjects such as technology and fundamentals of programming, social and community engagement, civil equality, and acceptance of the other. Teachers should be given greater autonomy in choice of subjects, teaching methods and assessing the class’s achievements. This assessment should not be done by a single person but also by the learner, his or her peers, and the teacher, similar to the way we are evaluated in the labor market.

The matriculation exams, too, are in need of radical change. They should focus on a small number of mandatory subjects and be complemented with group and individual projects that reflect the learner’s thinking abilities, teamwork, creativity and resourcefulness, emotional intelligence, self-guidance, and the capacity of transmitting knowledge. If these changes are implemented, the number of pupils who pass the exams should approach 100%. Accordingly, higher education would be open for all and become a prerequisite, albeit insufficient, for effective functioning in the work market.

The nature of the “new school,” including the outdated name of this institution, is not quite clear yet. What is clear is that demographic trends, accelerating globalization, rapid change in the work markets and economies that rely on human resources require comprehensive strategic moves to prepare today’s children – the Alpha and Z generations, for tomorrow’s world.

The writer is president of Beit Berl College.

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