Farewell, bagrut system?

Standardized tests are irrelevant to the future workforce

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Education Ministry recently published its various measures for evaluating schools in Israel and it is to be commended for its policy of transparency. However, in 2018, Israeli society’s view of bagrut (matriculation exam) scores should be the subject of in-depth discussion.
It is clear that evaluation is critical to the success of any organization – which is why every student, teacher, principal and CEO must undergo such assessment. This process is a tool for improvement, transparency, correction, as well as for personal and professional growth. To date, however, most of Israel’s schools have used standard evaluation processes that aren’t suited to the 21st century.
Their focus on Bagrut success rates results in a focus on frontal learning (in which a teacher stands at the front of the class and lectures to students) and the memorization of information. Both of these kinds of learning are becoming obsolete
The educational landscape across the world is changing. In countries like Sweden, Poland, Finland, and parts of the United States and Canada, there are minimal matriculation exams, and often they are only in core subjects such as math. Some of these places require psychometric or aptitude tests to earn a high school diploma, as they help higher learning institutions with their admissions process.
While schools, students and parents in Israel are focused on Bagrut scores, the changing world around them will force them to adapt to a new, more relevant learning space – one that emphasizes values, questions of identity, and canonical and contemporary knowledge. Most importantly, this new space will equip them with the skills they need for the future: learning and critical thinking, interpersonal communication and information literacy, among other skills
In addition to the changing status of the bagrut, the importance of a higher academic degree – once considered crucial for social mobility and finding employment – is also diminishing. The “information revolution” has dramatically changed the workforce into one that relies on workers who are independent learners who can take information and analyze and synthesize it into new understandings and knowledge.
In recent interviews, high-tech recruiters acknowledged that an academic degree is no longer a significant factor in their hiring practices; instead they are looking for candidates with strong social skills who can learn independently, think critically, adapt to changing circumstances, and possess leadership qualities.
Moreover, a report from Israel’s Employment Service recently showed that unemployment is down, but that the rate by which it is decreasing is slower among academic-degree holders. An analysis of requests for unemployment benefits from 2013 to 2017 found that the higher academic degree a job seeker held, the harder it was for him to find work. Part of that can be attributed to technological developments, but part of it stems from the fact that the workforce now embraces entrepreneurs who think creatively, not just those who have a degree.
In other words, grades and memorization of information will not bring about the required cultural change. As someone who has seen the innovation being introduced by the pedagogical and R&D teams at the Education Ministry, it is clear to me that they understand this as well. The time is ripe for a shift toward different learning and evaluation methods.
The writer holds a doctorate and is director general of AMIT.