Eliminate the bagrut

The matriculation exam stymies students and limits teachers.

school 88 (photo credit:)
school 88
(photo credit: )
Israel was built on the backs of people who put their lives on the line for a cause. My heroes are people like Theodor Herzl, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, David Raziel, Avraham Stern and Menachem Begin. My joy is that we do not need to be like them. We have legal, acceptable, recognized channels by which to effect change. The future of our children - if not our state - is on the line. This goes well beyond any concern for Israel's economic prosperity based upon its vaunted "intellectual capacity." My vision for our educational system is one in which we have happy, intellectually curious, morally upright students joyously growing into successful, satisfied and committed adults, people who have a passion for their work, their families and their country. The bagrut (high school matriculation) system is fundamentally at odds with this vision. It stymies the students, it limits the teachers, and also reduces our collective intellectual capacity. THE BAGRUT is not effective at ensuring that students have any particular base of knowledge. What our students learn is that passing the test is all-important, that collaboration is cheating, that someone else has the one right answer, that they need to reproduce it, and once they have done so, they have done their job. They do not learn to think deeply, they are not trained to collaborate, and come to doubt the knowledge they already have. Then we lament that no one has respect for anyone else and that people disregard others in their quest to get ahead. Some students might recognize some of my "heroes" as figures from history class, but few could cogently argue whether these people were terrorists, builders of a state, statesmen or a little bit of all of these. What's worse is that even fewer care. They might know the formula for an ellipse, but fail to recognize that this shape characterizes the orbits of planets. They can look at the sun in the morning, but don't wonder why they can't at noon. They are taught the basics of science, but the miracle of life is lost on them. Quite simply, they haven't been taught to ask questions or take initiatives. They are uninspired and join the rat race for money, status and possessions instead. Often, when they do know a subject, that knowledge is not reflected in the bagrut grade. I teach English, and frequently find myself asking other English teachers what answer the bagrut examiners want, even at the three-point level. I have students who understand a passage without difficulty, but then lose points because their answers are too specific or general. Some just don't take these tests well or lose credit based on errors in interpretation or computation, while others may know a formula or fact and get full credit without any real understanding, We are left with the question of whether the bagrut really measures anything that matters in life. Even if it does, is it worth the cost? ON THE other hand, teachers are expected to teach what is on the test. To cover all the material, they may not have the time to delve deeply into any particular matter, or even to determine whether students truly understand the concepts underlying what is taught. In many schools, what's left of the school year after Passover - probably a fifth of the year - is given over almost entirely to test preparation and bagrut examinations. Even though most of us know that substantive teaching will give us the same results in the short term and greater ones in the long term, we are strongly encouraged to "prepare" our students for the test, in other words finding the right answer, whether they understand or not. While this is sufficient cause for outrage, it is not my inspiration for writing this op-ed. Instead, it is the lack of willingness to do anything about it. Instead of taking action to effect changes, we make excuses why things are the way they are and why no one is willing to change it. Further, we live in fear of the system. We claim we have a free press and freedom of expression, but our inspectors do not feel at liberty to give their opinion on the bagrut system, school administrators and teachers won't take a stand for fear of losing their jobs, and students don't act because they have been given no model to follow. We are willing to be victims instead of agents for change, and we all lose out. For the health and continued prosperity of this country, it is time for a change. The writer is an American lawyer, licensed Israeli English teacher, and the father of four school-aged boys. His mission is to reform the educational system in Israel. His Website is www.educatingisrael.com. drherz@educatingisrael.com