I was called into my daughter’s school this week to discuss what she needs to do to achieve top performance her the upcoming bargut exams.
The daughter in question is my fifth child and my last to go through the public school system. With the other kids I didn’t question the system. That’s the way that they do it in Israel. The bagrut is the almighty indicator of a student’s success, or his ability to learn, of his capacity to memorize reams of (useless) material — of his future. From the 10th – 12th grades the kids don’t actually learn much, they just prepare to regurgitate information so that they can pass the bagrut.
A lot depends on the bagrut. For the student, his bagrut score, together with his psychometric score determines whether he’ll be able to go on to further studies and, if so, where. For the school staff, jobs depend on the students’ bagrut scores. In our town a number of administrators were let go a few years ago because the new mayor was unhappy at the percentage of students who passed their bagruts. (the fact that all parents were called into the school for a personal conference with the principal about their daughters’ bagrut is an indication of how terrorized the staff is by these exams).
It’s also a political football. The mayor ran, five years ago, on a platform that included criticism of the schools’ bagrut scores during his predecessor’s term of office and this year, he ran on a platform that touted the rising percentages of students that achieve a bagrut certificate.
But where’s the learning? Where’s the joy in learning? Where’s the basis for teaching kids that it’s fun and useful to learn? I understand the importance of evaluating students’ learning but when did it become a means to an end? What end?
These questions have been on my mind ever since I saw a recent Jewish history lesson presented online by JETS Israel. The class is a year-long class being offered to high school students in St. Louis. Everything in the class is interactive, from the information that’s presented to the evaluation.
What’s interesting is that the kids love learning. They’re engaged, energized and involved in the entire process and — most importantly, won’t be forgetting the material 24 hours after the test is over.
Actually there’s no test. The students are evaluated based on the projects that each student does. Students can work alone or in pairs and in addition to the teacher’s comments and guidance, the students help comment and evaluate each others projects in a constructive manner.
Why can’t Israeli schools move into the 21st century, ditch the bagrut and create classrooms that are truly learning environments. Because they certainly aren’t right now.