Expert: Piron's plan may hurt student's motivation

It is possible that Piron’s plan to cut the number of exams may lower student motivation, says expert.

Shai Piron (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Shai Piron
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Education Minister Shai Piron’s plan to reduce the number of matriculation exams to only four subjects may cause students to be less motivated to study subjects in which there will be no final exam, sociologist Dr. Yariv Feniger said on Tuesday.
When he took office last month, Piron made it clear that one of the changes he has planned for the education system is reducing the mandatory matriculation exam for high school students to only four tests: Hebrew, English, mathematics and one elective subject.
According to the Yesh Atid MK, these subjects include specific informational goals, for which teaching for the tests is ideal. However, in other mandatory subjects, such as Bible, heritage, history and science, teachers will be free to teach in whichever way they choose.
Piron also stated that reducing the amount of high school exams will “expand the students’ minds and truly inculcate a love for learning and a deeper appreciation of these subjects.”
While Feniger stressed that Piron’s intention is positive, he said there are many consequences that come with making such a change, which the minister must carefully think about.
“It is true that there are problems with the matriculation exam, particularly the fact that all studies in high school are only directed towards the exam and learning becomes instrumental, just for the test,” the professor at Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Education told The Jerusalem Post.
“This was predominant under Gideon Sa’ar as it was very important to him to conduct a standardized test, so in that sense Piron is bringing a good change.
“But on the other hand, the matriculation exam is very important,” Feniger continued, “It’s important in education to set goals to the students and the matriculation exam is significant, it represents something to aim for.”
To illustrate his argument, Feniger mentioned an academic study conducted recently by American and Israeli researchers which showed that in countries where there is no final high school exam, like is most US states, student motivation diminishes significantly.
He also explained that the matriculation exam tends to push the weaker students in Israel to reach a goal, and, without the clear goal of the exam, there is a strong risk that these weaker students will not study hard enough.
“I teach in higher education, students choose to study, they pay a lot of money for it and still, if I don’t give them an exam, they won’t study,” he added.
Feniger added that in order to implement Piron’s plan, the Education Ministry should think about ways to build student motivation in the subjects they will not be tested on, knowing that “the age of high school is not the ideal age for learning out of personal satisfaction.”
“There is one more thing: Let’s say we cancel some exams, then what do we do with the subjects that students will have no exam in? My worry is that they will simply disappear,” he told the Post.
“Why would schools invest in teaching them?” In addition, Feniger explained, Piron’s plan could have an impact on university admissions.
“The fact that there is also the [standardized] psychometric exam for [university admissions] already shows that universities don’t fully believe in the matriculation exams, so if they see that there are less of them now, the psychometric will become even more decisive, which is not a good thing,” he said.
Feniger explained that because there is a link between socioeconomic backgrounds and results on the psychometric test, if university placement depends only on this exam, gaps between students will only get larger.
“Kids from higher socioeconomic background can prepare better,” he said, “The matriculation exam minimizes gaps because everyone studies the same, but the psychometric exam is absolutely not intended to do so.”
Although he believes the idea of cutting down on exams is a step in the right direction, Feniger also thinks it is “a question to be really seriously thought about.”
“Deciding to do four just like that is an agenda easy to display in time of election,” he said, “but when you sit in the chair of the decision maker, you realize it’s very complicated.”
Feniger also suggested that perhaps a combination between internal school exams, matriculation exams and a final project would be an effective solution to fixing the overload of standardized tests in the Israeli education system.