Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Religious students in Israel are less proficient in English than their Secular peers

English week at Ulpanat Bnei Akiva Neria
A recently released study of the educational systems in Israel revealed that religious-Zionist high school graduates in Israel were less prepared for university-level English than their secular peers.

The study, conducted by Ariel Finkelstein for the 'Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah' religious-Zionist movement, was based on a sampling of psychometric exams for college entrance from the years 2000 to 2012. The findings were conclusive: religious students consistently scored 11 and 15 points below secular students in English proficiency, while on par or better than their secular peers in every other subject.

YBA Educational Network
Director General Elchanan Glatt
"To some extent this is understandable, given the extra hours and emphasis on Jewish Studies in religious schools that doesn't exist in secular schools," said Elchanan Glatt, the Director General of the Yeshivot Bnei Akiva Educational Network in Israel, "still, these findings are worrisome for religious Zionist educators. Perhaps in the past some elements in the religious Zionist public saw the study of foreign languages as unimportant. But that worldview is no longer relevant. Today it is clear to everyone that speaking a foreign language fluently, especially English, is an essential part of a high-quality education."

Glatt pointed to two graduates of YBA high schools as personal examples: Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipy Hotovely and Minister of Education Naftali Bennett. "Today's generation sees YBA graduates in the Knesset, and eloquently presenting Israel's case in English in the international media, and they understand the importance of English. They know that English is the international language in computer sciences, medicine, physics and every other scientific field, including the social sciences such as sociology or history."

Glatt stressed that the YBA educational network was taking the findings seriously and working to close the gaps in English proficiency. YBA created a new position for a network-wide English Instruction Supervisor to advise schools on how they can improve. In-service training programs are being planned for English teachers, and measurable benchmark goals are being set for each school. "The process should take two years to fully implement before we will be able to see quantifiable results," he said. "The improvement won't come at the expense of our Jewish Studies program. We have enough hours for English lessons, we just have to invest in making those hours as effective and productive as possible."

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