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Education Ministry present plans for new Bagrut exams program

Parent and student organizations condemned the Education Ministry’s new bagrut (matriculation) exams program, after it was presented by Education Minister Yoav Kisch on Tuesday. “We tried to convince [Kisch otherwise], with the backing of methods and studies that showed why not to return to an old-fashioned way, in which the learning of the subjects for the exams was done by memorizing material and a written exam,” the Israeli Parents Association said.

“The new outline... will distance Israeli students from their counterparts in developed countries, does not provide tools that meet the demands of the labor market... and will only deepen gaps between disadvantaged and strong schools, while creating a huge and futile educational burden.”

According to the outline, each grade for a subject will consist of three parts.

The first part will consist of an external exam (35% of the study material), the second part will be made up of two tasks testing practical application (also 35%), and the last part will be a grade given by the school.

“Today we present the flexible graduation program that will return school subjects to their rightful place,” Kisch said. “The combination of an external matriculation exam together with contemporary skills is the right way for Israeli students. The Education Ministry under my leadership sees great importance in administrative flexibility that allows individual choice and adjustment according to the characteristics of schools and students.”

The old program included only two parts, one being an exam testing 70% of the study material, and the rest being a school grade. Schools will be able to decide if they want to use the old or the new program in each subject. Principals will also be able to decide to begin some of the exams in the 10th grade, as part of adjusting workload management for individual students.

The new program will be applicable for the subjects of society, heritage and humanities, including Tanach, history, citizenship and literature. The program was formulated after long consultations with principals, teachers, supervisors, students and the Teachers Union.

“I believe that the studies of social subjects and the humanities serve as a uniting tool with which values, culture and tradition can be instilled,” said Kisch. “These cornerstones are the basis of our existence as a people and make up our national identity.”

Mixed reactions

Chairman of the Organization of High School Teachers Ran Erez praised Kisch and the ministry for the planned changes. “After we were given the main points of the reform in the curriculum, which includes bringing back the external matriculation exams in all subjects and necessary changes in the learning methods, we welcome it.”

The National Council of Students and Youth criticized the plans, which according to them “sends the students back to learning based on memorization, as was customary 50 years ago, a method that is not relevant to today’s reality that requires other skills.

“In recent months, the National Student and Youth Council has suggested to senior officials of the ministry and the education minister that we should not go back to the era of 11 external matriculation exams, that we should not teach heritage without deepening values and that we should not increase the load at the expense of depth, but unfortunately the Education Ministry chose to ignore our pleas,” the organization said.

Former education minister Yifat Shasha-Biton said students, parents and teachers would pay the price for Kisch’s changes. Also, the Teachers Union announced on Tuesday that classes for the 11th grade will begin at 12 p.m. on Wednesday, due to a failure to negotiate better salary and working conditions.