Jerusalem – Education Minister Naftali Bennett is planning a “crash recruitment” of English-speaking volunteers to help teach the language in Israeli schools.
The program is looking for native English speakers to volunteer one or two hours each week to speak and work with children from kindergarten through high school.
“The biggest problem we have is that we have is a huge deficit of English teachers, good English teachers,” Bennett told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. “In fact, half of the English teachers who are teaching English now only completed four matriculation units. That’s unbelievable.”
Touting the success of the “Give Me Five” initiative that is currently in its third year, Bennett said he was focusing this school year on repairing what he claims was a decade of decline in math and science.
“We moved from 13,000 graduates in science and math in 2006 to 8,900 in 2012 and by the end of this year, we are going to achieve 18,000 graduates of 5 units of math,” Bennett said of the volunteer initiative’s impact.
He also noted “jumps” that schools in the periphery have experienced in recent years. “We are seeing most of these improvements in places like Yeroham, Kiryat Shmona, Rahat and Kiryat Malachi.”
This year, Bennett is using the Give Me Five model to go after improvements in the English curriculum.
The program, funded by an investment of some NIS 70 million, aims to increase the number of students studying English at five matriculation units; improve English speaking and comprehension skills; and fill the significant lack of teachers who are qualified to teach the language.
“Here the problem is different,” Bennett said about challenges of the new initiative. “It’s not about five units or four units, it’s about what they learn. And what I’ve noticed is that kids learn… but they don’t know how to speak English. So the main goal is to move from theory to speaking.”
He also praised the Masa English Teaching Fellows program, a joint effort of the Education Ministry and Masa Israel, which brought some 250 University graduates from English-speaking countries to spend one year teaching English in Israeli public schools, particularly in the periphery.
“Instead of doing ‘Teach for America,’ they are doing this,” said Bennett.
He called that program a win-win situation in which young teachers get to spend time in Israel and build their resumés while pupils get to learn English from native speakers.
The whole program is “very touching for me,” he said. “And who knows? Maybe half of them will stay here, because it’s great here.”
Bennett said “advanced technology will compensate for the lack of teachers” while Israeli schools wait for qualified English instructors. Those technologies would take the form of Skype conversations with English speakers outside the classroom and computer programs geared at improving conversation skills.
“The goals is to get as many good qualified teachers out in the field as soon as possible,” Bennett said.