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Israeli ministry criticises non-English speakers

The director general of the Israeli ministry of education has stressed the importance of English language proficiency in a letter in which he said graduates with no English would be ‘handicapped’.

The Ministry of Education in Jerusalem. Photo:אסף.צ /Wikimedia Commons

The National Program focuses also on teachers training and recruitment to address a shortage of English teachers

In a ministerial letter, director general Shmuel Abuav said that English teachers have a crucial role in the education system and that graduates who don’t speak English have been ‘failed’ by their teachers in their ‘most basic duty’.

“As English teachers, I’m sure that you understand as well as I do just how important your work is,” he said.

“You know that a graduate who doesn’t know English is a crippled graduate, a handicapped. He is a graduate whom we have failed in our most basic duty.”

“We need to give students the tools to succeed in the real world – and one of these tools is English”

The ministry’s chief inspector for English language education Tziona Levi told The PIE News that although some may not agree with the director’s choice of words, his message is accurate – and important.

“He cares a lot about English [education],” she told The PIE. “He just wanted to show that a graduate who can’t speak English will miss out on important opportunities.”

“Without English you really can’t do much.”

She explained that English language education is one of the priorities for the education ministry, and that she agrees with the director’s message that it is teachers’ ‘most basic duty’ to ensure that students have adequate English proficiency.

“If we want to train, prepare and help students with their future, then that’s something that we need to deal with. We need to give students the tools to succeed in the real world – and one of these tools is English,” she told The PIE.

“If the education system doesn’t do this properly… we are actually limiting our students’ future chances.”

The ministry recently launched an overhaul of the English language education system.

It increased the number of English language classes in schools and focused on improving students’ speaking proficiency, a skill that Levi said had not received the proper attention in the past.

“Because speaking was only assessed as part of the final matriculation exam, it was almost neglected in the lower grades. We are now bringing it back, devoting the necessary attention that it needs, because it’s a difficult skill to teach,” she explained.

Levi was personally involved in the launch of a computerised oral proficiency test, which involved 300 students last year and will be rolled out to test 10,000 this year.

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