Anger at Treasury move to cut costs

28th November 1997 at 00:00
ISRAEL. A Treasury proposal to cut costs by closing a curriculum development centre and putting its work out to tender has sparked angry public debate about privatisation and increasing ministry control.

The proposal, in an internal ministry document obtained by The TES, links the privatisation to a strengthening of control over standards and the introduction of benchmark assessment.

Academics, teachers, and the Knesset (parliamentary) education committee, have joined the outcry about the plans.

Professor Miriam Ben-Peretz, head of Haifa University's school of education, said: "As well as producing materials, the centre operates committees of experts which can bring the most up-to-date thinking to the system. It can deal with problematic areas where there is no profit to be made. Who will fund the experimental things that might fail, the diverse teams, and all the checking and feedback carried out?" Moshe Ilan, the centre's head, warned: "If we are closed, nobody will see the general picture. The private sector would focus on what was cost-effective and cheap. Small populations, such as Arabs and special needs children would be overlooked. Already, commercially produced materials cost twice as much as the centre's."

The centre, established 30 years ago to pool resources, employs 60 full-time pedagogical staff. It develops thinking about subjects, and issues such as a core curriculum - which Israel does not yet have. It creates pilot syllabuses, textbooks, and teaching guides for schools, which, if successful, set standards for commercial publishers.

The document was written by Professor Ozer Schild, chair of the pedagogical secretariat, who insisted that it reflected initial, personal ideas. According to the document, all learning materials would be produced by the private sector, via tender.

The ministry's pedagogical secretariat, which determines educational policy, would take charge of determining standards, or " benchmarks", working with a subject committee and the chief inspector.

The rump curriculum centre's main function would be to help design tasks and tools to assess whether children had attained the benchmarks. The tasks would guide the private organisations in the preparation of materials, from which schools could choose.

Professor Zemira Mevarech, the ministry's chief scientist, and a member of the committee established to consider the closure, said: "It's not even certain that closure will be cheaper." Her view was that some education functions can only be performed by a national unit.

Meanwhile, inquiries reveal that Professor Schild was involved with attempts in the early 1990s to introduce tests in maths and Hebrew for eight to 10-year-olds. Those tests, intended to lead to the publication of league tables comparing schools, were dropped after public protest.

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