English Education Gets A High Five
“Give me Five!” Is not the Israeli Education Ministry’s way of asking for a hand-slap, it is the name of the reform to improve Israeli students’ English proficiency, with the goal of increasing the number of students studying English at five matriculation units, the highest level in Israeli schools.
Implemented in September 2017 with a budget of NIS 70 million, the government put its money where its mouth was. Among other developments, English libraries were built and interactive digital learning tools were made available for students from fourth to sixth grade. Classes dedicated to English verbal skills have been added.
For students in seventh grade, an extra academic hour per week dedicated to improving spoken English has been added. Eighth- and ninth-graders received more informal English instruction including public speaking and debate.
The goals of these reforms were first, to increase the number of students studying advanced English from 61% to 70% within four years, and second, to decrease failure rates from 20% to 15%. As for the exams themselves, the oral component has become a more substantial part of the exam, executed via Skype or other online conversations with examiners.
Naturally, finding the human resources to take on the added hours of English instruction was a challenge. To this end the Ministry offered NIS 21 million in scholarships to qualifying – English-speaking on a high level, with a bachelor’s degree – English teachers from Israel and abroad. Those who were granted scholarships received free training for assignment of jobs in the school system.
Ultimately, the Education Ministry strongly believes that to achieve success in a 21st-century globalized society – especially in the fields of hi-tech, academia, diplomacy and business – excellence in English is a prerequisite.