The Israeli government has figured out that it’s really important to make sure it’s next generation is fluent in the international language of business and technology — English — but there’s one little problem holding up the works in the new program proudly announced last week by Education Minister Naftali Bennett that’s aimed at strengthening the English language skills of the country’s students.
The new reform is aimed at strengthening spoken English, but there’s a major difference between the abstract plan and the reality.
At a cost of NIS 70M, the ‘Give Me Five’ program that is the centerpiece of the initiative focuses on spoken English from elementary school on up with the goal of increasing the number of units of achievement in the matriculation exams to the higher four or five.
This is to be accomplished by adding some 2,000 hours of instruction in the language in grades 10 to 12, with 11th graders receiving reinforced English online supplemental learning. Libraries are to be established in the English language; exams will be held via Skype, and more. The program aims, among other goals, to reduce the rate of failure in adulthood from 15 to 20 percent, as well as improve the quality of teaching.
But an investigative report by Ma’ariv investigative journalist Sigal Ben David suggests there is a serious shortage of teachers who are fluent in the English language.
The Hebrew-language newspaper revealed that hundreds of qualified teachers were missing. “It’s hard to find teaching staff who speak fluent English and can conduct an in-depth conversation, let alone who possess competent grammar skills, and an accent with which the students can also be comfortable,” Ben David wrote.
In light of the severe shortage of English teachers in Israel’s educational institutions, as evidenced by the Ma’ariv Magazine survey, it is not yet clear there will be anyone to implement his reform.
“There are principals throughout the country who are desperate for English teachers,” said Alon Portman, director of the National English Achievement Program, a national program for excellence in English, operated in cooperation with the Education Ministry, local authorities and Keren Atid Plus.
“The greatest shortage exists in the periphery,” Portman said.
“We know the situation in the authorities,” Portman told Ma’ariv. “From conversations with English teachers on the ground, we hear that they yearn to work on the student’s conversational skills and to increase their confidence in conversation, rather than just memorizing vocabulary.”
Portman was unable to provide an accurate count on how many English teachers are needed, but said estimates reach as high as 500 at the secondary school level alone.
Currently, elementary school students study English between four and five hours per week.
The new initiative calls for the recruitment of 4,000 new teachers who either are native English speakers, or speak English “at a high level.” In addition, the ministry plans to recruit 2,000 more to serve as fluent English-speaking teaching assistants in the classrooms as well.
CEO Tzvika Peleg, head of the ORT network which I includes 220 schools around the country, said there is a significant shortage of teachers in many subjects dealing with science, as well as the English language.
“It’s difficult for us to recruit teachers, and we’ve tried all kinds of creative solutions,” he said.
“We even considered bringing in young teachers as new immigrants in cooperation with the Jewish Agency, but that’s very difficult because one must make a commitment to provide them with housing, a salary and benefits within the context of the job, and unfortunately this is not possible.”
The issue is not new.
According to the Ministry of Education, there are currently some 13,000 English teachers in Israel, and a study conducted last year at Beit Berl College found that a large proportion of past teachers were “Anglos” (short for “Anglo-Saxon” — the label used in Israel to denote a person from an English-language speaking country) who immigrated to Israel and were qualified to teach. Their number has significantly decreased in recent years, in part because they sought more rewarding positions.
In response, the Education Ministry said in a statement that it sees teachers as the “backbone of the national program, and therefore is invested in the recruitment and training of new teachers.
“Accordingly, the ministry has recruited 1,000 professional English teachers from Israel and abroad, who include: 500 graduates of colleges and universities, 300 English speakers in special programs, 150 foreign teachers and 50 teachers from the Arab sector who taught in the Jewish sector.“
More than one immigrant from English-speaking countries with whom JewishPress.com has spoken for this article noted that the Ministry of Education has yet to take advantage of the vast, untapped resource to be found among the immigrants from English-speaking countries in North America and the UK. Likewise, as mentioned by ORT CEO Tzvika Peleg, few competent teachers are likely to consider participating in the program unless the ministry does what it must to make it worthwhile for the average wage-earner to want to work — or return to work — in the field of education.