Israel’s education system can still be improved

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

MAKING THE question of ‘Why should I learn this at all?’ totally redundant (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
MAKING THE question of ‘Why should I learn this at all?’ totally redundant
How do you raise a generation that attains good learning achievements while caring 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 the education minister or the government change; 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 the policy.
While many schools in Israel are showing signs of educational achievements combined with social equality, in the absence of a comprehensive strategy and system-wide commitment, these sporadic successes will never mature into a nationwide accomplishment that would place Israel among the countries that 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 forth the qualifications for becoming an educator and a 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 can take root, grow and bear fruit without external interference.
The critical mass of teacher training should be shifted from certification courses and other forms of crash courses into a master’s degree taught in academic institutions. These curricula will be taught according to the Higher Education Council’s framework, combining theoretical studies and 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 transformation as well, to become multidisciplinary, project– and problem-focused, and make 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 fast and 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 subjects such as technology and fundamentals of programming; social and community engagement; civil equality and acceptance of the other and more. Teachers should be given larger autonomy on the choice of subjects, the teaching methods and assessing the class’s achievements. The assessment should be done not 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 are also 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, resourcefulness, emotional intelligence, self-guidance and capacity for transmitting knowledge. If these changes are implemented, the number of pupils who pass the exams should near 100%. Accordingly, higher education would be open for all and become a prerequisite, albeit insufficient element for effective functioning in the labor 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, fast changes in the labor 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.