Education Ministry tweaks racism dispute out of civics matriculation exam

The Education Ministry has removed part of the high school civics matriculation exam that would have asked students to argue a controversial point and that stipulated that any racist content would have automatically fail the answer, Haaretz reported Wednesday.

At the end of August, the ministry’s civics studies unit notified teachers about the course work and exams in the coming year, which were to have included a compulsory four-part question asking students to express and explain their opinion on a controversial public matter. After providing a personal view together with for and against arguments, pupils were to justify, in the final part of the question, “the more convincing explanation from the personal point of view of the student” — but were warned that “expressions of racism or incitement” would result in a failed answer.

The stipulation against racism had faced opposition from some of those setting the education curricula as it left too much open for interpretation by teachers, the report said.

Last week, the Education Ministry updated teachers that the final part of the question was being scrapped.

The ministry told teachers the amendment was being made in order “to make the change (to the new question type) gradually and in a manner that will be assimilated as required” and to enable the ministry to better understand how the question will be received by students.

The measure was taken by Moshe Weinstock, who was appointed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett to chair the ministry’s pedagogic secretariat, Haaretz said.

In a response to the newspaper, the Education Ministry denied that by removing this part of the question and its prohibition against racist sentiments it was instead allowing such content, and stressed “it condemns and denounces any instance of racism.”

“This year, the ministry decided to change these questions by [asking students] to prove the reason for the argument they raise — for and against. In both cases, the argument must be based on an intelligent argument and on the terms of citizenship that the students have learned, as it always has been.”

The decision to take out the final section of the question “stemmed from the need to gradually assimilate the change in order to enable the students to deal with the question in the best possible manner.”

“An answer that reveals racism has not been accepted in the past and will not be accepted today,” the ministry stressed, “because of the incorrectness of the answer and that such expressions have no place in a civilized society.”

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