Students await delayed math exam

Photo: Avishag Shaar-Yeshuv

Let’s look around us: How many people who need to use mathematics (rather than arithmetic) in their daily lives do we know? How many math teachers do we know? And how many math researchers do we know? The likely answer for most of us is “none.”

It is no wonder that the great tension surrounding the math matriculation exam’s horror show repeats itself every year, and prompts great efforts by students to get their hands on the exam in advance.

So what is the objective at the basis of the demand to test all Israeli high-schoolers on their math knowledge? After all, everyone realizes that math isn’t for everyone. Most high school graduates will not need it in university. Moreover, math is unsuitable for most high-schoolers – it embitters their lives, prompts them to spend great amounts of money on tutoring, and ultimately prevents many from getting their matriculation diploma.

And why does everyone have to take the math exam? The answer is simple: Inertia. This is how it’s always been, and therefore it has to be like that forever.

The demand that all students take the math exam pulls the whole system down. We know well that compared to other developed countries, the percentage of distinguished students around here is very low.

### Thinking out of the box

What happened to the Jewish mind? One of the reasons for this worrying result is the demand that everyone take the exam. The roughly 80% of students who are unfit for math impose their difficulties on the entire system, including distinguished students, and overall quality declines.

The solution to this is simple, and at this time it is supported by many: Cancel the mandatory exam, and leave math studies in 10th to 12 grade up to the students who choose to do it. That is, end mandatory math instruction at the ninth grade, and leave the math electives to highly talented students or those who view their academic future in the sciences. Meanwhile, all other academic programs must annul the demand for a math exam.

And so, this model would turn the matriculation exam in math into an elective. Hence, the 80% of students who won’t have to do it will be able to forego this needless headache and make time for other matters.

The students who choose to study math and take the exam at the end of 12th grade would comprise an elite group, will study high level mathematics, enjoy the best teachers, and cause the national math level to go up. I can promise you that we shall have no shortage of mathematicians under the new model.

This isn’t too completed, yet it requires us to think out of the box.