1. Where’s the Public Uproar About Israel’s State of Education
by Dov Lipman, rabbi, educator and political activist
Historically, the Jewish people have always been among the brightest, most creative minds worldwide and most literate of nations. Aside from introducing the Bible to the world, we have also consistently contributed to the progress of civilization on the highest levels. U.S. Pres. John Adams declared, “I will insist the Hebrews have contributed more to civilize men than any other nation…They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth…They have given religion to three-quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind more and more happily than any other nation, ancient or modern.” However, much of this occurred on the heels of the early decades of the stat when we excelled in education as should be expected from a Jewish state. In the 1960’s Israeli students topped international rankings in math and science skills and it was this excellence in education which has enabled us to fulfill the Jewish value of contributing to the world’s development and progress. According to a 2009 survey released by the Organization for Economic Coordination and Development, out of the 65 participating countries, Israeli youth ranked 36th in reading and 41st in science and mathematics. Some 35 percent never read for their own enjoyment and only 15% of the boys read at least one hour per day. The level of Jewish education has dropped dramatically. Average scores for standardized Tanach tests for elementary school students in religious schools are in the 50’s. The scores in the secular schools are far worse with students graduating without knowledge of the most basic Jewish teachings and values. Perhaps the biggest tragedy is the lack of awareness regarding Jewish history. 73% of Israelis do not know what transpired on November 29, 1947 when the U.N. voted for the partition plan which granted us the right to form our state – according to a recent poll. The future for the Jewish people in the State of Israel is bleak given the dearth of education in Bible, Jewish history, math and science and the lack of overall reading and literacy. Too many of our youth are submitting to the lure of instant gratification that television and the Internet provide, and too many of our teachers are ineffective and burned out. The discipline needed to achieve is no longer demanded. How do we solve the problem? There are numerous approaches which can help, including actual curriculum changes, implementing the IBM model for Total Quality Management to our schools, training teachers to use innovative and cutting-edge teachniques in the classroom, cutting back on the number of bagruyot (matriculation exams), enhanced community service initiatives and projects, revamping the entire role which extra-curricular activities play within the school structure. The problem is not a lack of creative solutions. The problem is a lack of concern about the problem.
2. Hebrew Language, Key in Israel Education
By Paula Jacobs, writer
The Hebrew culture movement of the early 20th century inspired by the cultural Zionist Ahad HaAm, aspired to preserve Hebrew language and viewed Hebrew as the vital spiritual link to Eretz Yisrael for all Jews. There are valuable lessons we can learn from the Hebraist movement and its singular curricular focus on Hebrew language and Zionist thought. Nothing binds us to Israel like the Hebrew language. Hebrew language learning must be prioritized from an early age. Hebrew then becomes the basis for the identification with Israel. Hebrew language learning for Jewish youth must become a priority and its value promoted.
3. Hebrew and the Language of Science
By David Newman, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben Gurion University
Modern Hebrew has developed its own styles and nuances. Like most other languages, there is a correct and an incorrect – but more common- way of speaking. Radio and TV broadcasters, the Haaretz newspaper, Israeli authorities and playwrights, linguistic and literature professors at universities all speak a “higher” form of the language, many of the terminologies and phrases of which are not commonly used by large sections of the population. Many senior academics argue that our research findings should be published in English rather than in Hebrew. This exposes the high quality of Israeli research to an international audience. Others argue that as citizens of this country, we should, first and foremost, be publishing our research in Hebrew. One group of scholars argue that to publish exclusively in Hebrew is provincial and parochial, while the latter argue that the demand to publish in English is a form of academic snobbery which has fallen captive to the processes of globalization. These contrasting arguments are raised on a weekly basis as the universities seek to evaluate the quality of the research being done by their faculty. The recent efforts to internationalize our universities has also led to growing pressure for university courses to be taught in English. It is seen as a means of forcing Israeli students to study at least part of their degree in English. Here too, there are those who strongly oppose such moves, arguing that this only serves to weaken the dissemination and use of the reborn Hebrew culture and language. The renaissance of the Hebrew language as a language of everyday life is nothing short of a modern miracle, but for Israel to be part of a global scientific world, it must strike the right balance between preserving and strengthening our local culture and language while, at the same time, exposing our research to a wider international audience and competing at the very highest level for recognition so Zion can have a truly global impact.
This post is also available in: Hebrew