Teachers union declares work dispute, threatens strike over matriculation reform

High school teachers union head says education minister’s plan to scrap testing for history, literature, civics and biblical studies will harm students and make them ‘ignorant’

High School Teachers Association chair Ran Erez during a press conference in Tel Aviv on May 23, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)
High School Teachers Association chair Ran Erez during a press conference in Tel Aviv on May 23, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)

High school teachers on Monday threatened to go on strike over Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton’s planned reform for high school matriculation.

“There has never been a minister who caused so much harm to the education system as Shasha-Biton,” High School Teachers Union chair Ran Erez said at a press conference announcing the work dispute with the ministry, warning that teachers could soon force schools to shut down, even before the current school year is over.

“We will soon start disrupting schools’ operations,” he said. “One option is not to give students grades at the end of the year. In addition, there may be disruptions at graduation parties, trips and more. If necessary — we will continue for two months,” he said.

Under Shasha-Biton’s planned reform, unveiled in February and presented last month, some testing will be replaced with new methods of study, work, and evaluation.

The changes will see the written exams for history, literature, civics, and biblical studies canceled and replaced by class projects and multidisciplinary work that are graded internally by each school, alongside an external assessment.

In each of those subjects, teachers will select projects for 10th and 11th grade students to choose from. Work for matriculation, known as bagrut, will include a range of new materials and formats, with students preparing individual projects and oral presentations.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton speaks during a press conference on the bagrut reform in Tel Aviv, April 26, 2022 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Twelfth-grade matriculation projects are to be assessed by an external examiner, with an overall final mark made up of the school’s own grading and that of the external assessment, in equal parts. The external score will be marked on written work and a frontal presentation of the project.

Testing for mathematics, English, language, and science subjects will continue as in the past, with externally-set written tests.

Erez said on Monday that the reform will harm the students and make them “ignorant.”

“We need to deepen our roots. We are not fighting the reform because of money, but because it harms students and makes certain subjects less important,” he said.

Matriculation exams can have a significant impact on a student’s future. Scores are a major criteria examined in applications to elite military units and academic institutions. The bagrut certificate is awarded to students who pass the required examinations with a mark of 56% or higher in each area of study.

Yehud Comprehensive High School students take their matriculation exams in Yehud on July 8, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/ Flash90)

The bagruyot reform is the latest in a series of systemic changes that Shasha-Biton has led since her appointment as education minister in June 2021.

The National Student and Youth Council slammed the union’s announcement, accusing Erez of hurting the students.

“Ran Erez once again thinks that his threats to shut down the education system at the height of the matriculation period and graduation events will harm the Education Ministry and the reforms it promotes. But the truth is, every time he uses the same cards indiscriminately he decides to hurt the students,” council head Omer Shahar said.

The teachers’ union announcement Monday joins another ongoing work dispute between the ministry and the Israeli Teachers’ Union over a new salary agreement with the state.

Tobias Siegal contributed to this report. 

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