Israel is a melting pot. About 75% of the population came from somewhere else. Naturally, we have a great amount of linguistic diversity. But there are still four common languages spoken here: Hebrew, Arabic, English and Russian.
English is undoubtedly the most common language spoken in the tourist sector and when dealing with relations with other countries. Israelis pride themselves on being able to speak the language very well. After all, it is a required second language for students in Hebrew and Arabic schools.
But our young generations will be facing a major problem: our future English teachers aren’t very proficient in the language.
More than 90% of future English teachers scored below average on an English high school exam, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. Scoring below average on the bagrut (matriculation exam) means that these future teachers will have to take English-language courses while studying for their degrees.
Only 5% of future English teachers earned a high enough score to be exempt from studying English for their bachelor’s.
As a parent, this news troubles me. It means that future English teachers, if they were raised and received an education in Israel, were poorly trained in the language from the start. Will they also give our children the same level of education? What about creative or essay writing? Imagine our teachers teaching other subjects they weren’t entirely proficient in – like science or math.
Obviously, this is not a particularly pressing issue for everyone. But if your child will likely enter into a job that requires him or her to speak English, it’s concerning to learn that future teachers are scoring poorly on the matriculation exam. Yes, they will study English while earning their degree, but will they be proficient enough when they graduate? And let’s not forget that English is still a required second language for students.
Having native speakers come to Israel to teach the language is ideal, but the system can be complicated, particularly for those who don’t speak Hebrew. The Ministry of Education, at best, ensures that these teachers are paid after two months. And for the teachers that don’t speak Hebrew, attempting to communicate with children (who barely know two words in English) and parents can be lonely and frustrating. Many frustrated teachers end up quitting and leaving.
Qualified English teachers are in short supply, but more has to be done to support native speakers who come here to teach our children the language. It’s a foreign country to them, and Israel’s ways – especially in the education system – are foreign. They need help and support transitioning if we want to keep skilled and experienced teachers around. Otherwise, private teaching will become the only solid way to really teach students the language. That’s where many of the talented teachers wind up going. They quit their job at the school to teach privately.
But not every family can afford to go this route, which may leave us with a generation of students who cannot speak the language proficiently.