Kristine L Ming

Education minister unveils program to improve English

“Not knowing English is effectively closing books in your face and shutting out opportunities to interact with the world,” Education Minister Naftali Bennett said on Wednesday while unveiling his program to improve English proficiency in Israel’s schools.

The goal of the NIS 70 million initiative is to shift the focus of English language studies toward verbal proficiency, increasing the number of students taking four or five units ahead of the matriculation exams and recruiting higher-quality English teachers.

“Give me Five,” the name given to the reform, refers to the goal of increasing the number of students studying English at five matriculation units, the highest level in Israeli schools.

Education Ministry director-general Shmuel Abuhav specified at a press conference that the reform aims to increase the number of students studying advanced English (four and five units) from 61% to 70% within four years. The program will also work to decrease failure rates from the current 20% to 15%.

“The goal is to create an arena for learning and studying outside the English classes,” he said.

Touting his success in math reforms two years ago (also called “Give Me Five,” but in Hebrew), Bennett promised to raise the share of students to 20% studying mathematics at a four or five matriculation level, this reform will be much broader and reach more students.

“We want to see school graduates capable of having a full and intelligent conversation anywhere in the world,” he said at the press conference.

Starting at the fourth-grade level, English libraries will be built and interactive digital learning tools will be available for students from fourth to sixth grade.

Under the new reforms, the addition of classes dedicated to verbal skills will provide students with more opportunities to speak and communicate in English.

Seventh-graders will receive an extra academic hour dedicated to improving spoken English. Integrating informal teaching methods including public speaking and debating will be available for eighth- and ninth-graders.

This program will also change the format of the English matriculation exams: “Oral and spoken English will become a more substantial part of the exam – teachers will know their students will be tested on their ability to talk,” Abuhav said.

The new format will have students complete the oral examination through Skype or other online conversations with examiners.

Offering NIS 21,000 scholarships, the ministry plans to recruit some 150 English teachers from Israel and abroad who are fluent English-speakers.

Stimulating competition, the prerequisite for this scholarship is a bachelor’s degree and a high level of English. Those granted the scholarships will receive free training in order to be assigned jobs in the school system.

Coming from an English-speaking home, Bennett stressed the advantages of a mastery of English to meet the needs of a 21st-century globalized society. “Every child of Israel must excel in spoken English. It is a basic requirement in hi-tech, academia, in diplomacy and in the business world.

There’s no reason why a girl from Ofakim can’t speak English like a boy from Amsterdam,” said Bennett.

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