Matriculation eligibility down this year

Arabs, religious Jews suffer sharpest decline in first percent decrease in 5 years.

tehilla school 88 (photo credit: )
tehilla school 88
(photo credit: )
Education Minister Yuli Tamir on Tuesday tried to downplay data showing a 2.4-percent drop in the number of Israeli high school students eligible to matriculate in 2005 as compared with 2004. "I wouldn't define a 1% rise or drop as either a celebration or a failure," she said. Speaking at a press conference in Tel Aviv, Tamir warned against what she called "an addiction to numbers" as a result of figures showing that 51.7% of pupils were eligible for matriculation last year versus 54.1% the year before. Beginning in 2000, by contrast, the number of those eligible to matriculate had risen steadily from 45.4%. The most dramatic drop in matriculation eligibility this year was in the religious sector - from 64.8% in 2004 to 58.5% in 2005. "This figure is below the figure for the general population, and this is worrisome," Tamir said. She added this drop may be related to the trauma suffered by religious Zionist youth during and after the disengagement. Another significant drop was noted among Arab students - from 38.8% in 2004 to 32.2% last year. Eligibility rates also dropped among students in regular academic high schools - from 65.1% to 61.1% in 2005. While the eligibility of both male and female high school students dropped in 2005, girls still did better in their eligibility rates. New immigrants also suffered a significant drop in eligibility - from 48.5% to 44.5%. "We have to work together with the Immigration Absorption Ministry and find ways to assist [them]," Tamir said. In contrast to the drop in the overall eligibility rate, the figures for those who passed the math and English exams remained stable. According to Tamir, one reason for the drop in eligibility was the reduction by 6.4 hours weekly hours of class time over the past several years. Incoming Education Ministry Director-General Shmuel Abuav said that one of the conclusions from the figures published on Monday was that it was necessary to pinpoint weak students in advance and give them special assistance, especially during the months leading up to the exams. Abuav also spoke of the need to give additional support to the non-Jewish sector. Amira Haim, director of the ministry's south district, said that students who were personally affected by the disengagement received special consideration following specific requests from parents and teachers. Such consideration took the form of additional assistance at schools, as well as additional preparation time prior to the administration of the exams. Nevertheless, Haim said, both parents and teachers affiliated with this group had requested that such consideration be limited to individual requests, so that their matriculation exams would not be "marked" in the future as different from those of their classmates. Haim also noted the increase in eligibility rates among Beduin students in the Negev, which rose from 23.8% in 2004 to 26.6% in 2005. Tamir said she was especially worried about the decrease in the number of students who passed the matriculation exam in civics. Jewish students who passed the civics exam dropped from 88% in 2004 to 84% in 2005. Speaking later on Tuesday at the First National Conference on Progressive Education, organized by the Institute for Educational Thought at the Kibbutzim College of Education, Tamir elaborated on the subject. "There is an erosion of civic identification with the State of Israel, and a sense that we are slowly becoming a polarized society," she said. "It's a worrisome process that will be very difficult to cure in schematic ways like use of the flag and anthem. That is not what is going to change the emotional allegiance of students with the state." Tamir promised that she would initiate a reevaluation of civics programs in schools and work to introduce the study of civics at a much younger age. She also said she was interested in giving more weight to the civics matriculation exam. "When you go into the Arab sector, the students ask very difficult questions," said Tamir. "You cannot paint a pastoral picture that doesn't accord with their experience." In contrast to former education ministers, Tamir said, she did not believe that threatening various sectors with budget cuts was the way to create a core curriculum common to all sectors of the education system. "This is something that needs to be done very delicately in all different sectors," she said. "You cannot teach civics as if there were no conflicts. The bottom line is that we all want to stay here. Nobody is going to disappear because we won't accept their worldview. But we have to find a way to balance pluralism with the desire to create something common, and this is a very difficult project." "I believe that Israel's education system is now emerging from what was perhaps the darkest period in its history, and is faced with new opportunities," said Dr. Nimrod Aloni, the head of Institute for Educational Thought, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post prior to the conference. Aloni also spoke out against an educational agenda that viewed matriculation exams and standardized tests as supreme educational values. Such an agenda, Aloni argued, defined school "as a place that is supposed to produce smoothly functioning citizens and efficient workers and fighters, but not human beings as ends in themselves."