Massive Demand for World ORT’s Centres of Excellence


There has been an overwhelming response to World ORT’s new Centres of Excellence in Israel with places at four of the five facilities massively oversubscribed. Thousands of teenagers eager to supplement their formal education with quality extra-curricular courses signed up to study subjects ranging from computer technology and marine sciences to microbiology and robotics at the Centres in Nahariya, Tsfat, Nazareth, Kiryat Gat and Dimona.

To meet demand, extra classes have been laid on in Design and Architecture, which is being run in cooperation with the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, and forensic science, which is organised in cooperation with the police.

“It’s got off to a fantastic start. Nobody believed that so many children would be interested,”? said Dr Ido Horresh, who manages the Centres of Excellence programme. “But we’re not resting on our laurels. We can’t force the children to come to classes, they’re voluntary; so if we want them to keep up their commitment the courses have to wow them. We must focus on ensuring that they look forward to coming every week.”?

Most of the courses started today (Thursday), although academics from the Weizmann Institute of Science have been giving lessons in applied physics to kids at Kiryat Gat and Dimona for over a week already “モ the first time that this internationally renowned institution has provided off-campus tutoring.

The NIS 15 million ($3.9 million) program managed by World ORT’s arm in Israel, Kadima Mada, is the result of a unique three-way partnership between the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, World ORT, and the municipalities in which the Centres of Excellence are situated. Within Israel, the Centres are better known as “YOU-niversities”?, which reflects the programme’s goal of opening up children’s eyes to their own abilities which could take them to university and beyond.

“These Centres will give opportunities for learning and advancement that until now were available only in the affluent communities in and around the Tel Aviv conurbation,”? said World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer. “There are great, innovative minds in peripheral communities, diamonds who have only needed the chance to be polished in order to reveal their brilliance. And in helping individuals reach their full potential we are helping the country as a whole to further develop its knowledge economy.”?

The Centres of Excellence pick up where regular schools leave off: open during the afternoons and evenings, they offer subjects which are not available at the kids’ day schools, which close at lunchtime. And where school classes can have as many as 40 students, making personalised attention difficult, the Centres’ classes are limited to 20 kids who enjoy the support of two mentors.

Each one will boost regional resources in scientific and technological education by using local professionals to run courses for local students, but drawing on input from national leaders including Hebrew University, Ben Gurion University, Machon Lev “モ Jerusalem College of Technology, and Micron Industries. Emphasis is placed on developing the children’s problem solving, higher order thinking skills, critical thinking and teamwork. All the courses are structured around the completion of a final project or presentation. But to maintain small class sizes the number of applicants has had to be whittled down through a series of face-to-face interviews.

“We picked those who seemed to be the most serious, passionate and committed,”? said Dr Horresh. “On the one hand, such selection makes the whole programme more prestigious but on the other hand we don’t like having to turn kids away.”?

Kids like Roman, 14, who has enrolled on the robotics and forensic courses at Dimona, a development town in the Negev which has suffered increasing unemployment as the introduction of new technology made workers redundant.

“I want to be an engineer like my late father “モ and I think these courses will give me enough scientific background to help me get into the Technion one day,”? he said.

At the opposite end of the country, in the historic town of Tsfat, Noa, 15, is starting the Young Doctors course.

“I want so much to be a surgeon when I grow up and I love that the mentors on this course are students in Tsfat’s new medical school, which is where I want to learn one day. I’m really looking forward to seeing a live broadcast of a kidney transplant,”? she said.

In Nahariya, 15-year-old Itay is learning marine biology and oceanography.

“I want to learn about the ocean because when I leave school I aim to join [elite naval commando unit] Shayetet 13. I hope these courses will make me a better candidate,”? he said.

And Nina, 12, has enrolled at the Nazareth Centre of Excellence to study the archaeology and heritage of what is Israel’s largest Arab city.

“I’m so excited,”? said Nina, who wants to be an archaeologist and tour guide when she grows up. “I’ve already made my parents buy all the books we can find about the history of the city!”?

The thirst for learning that exists among so many young people in the underprivileged communities in which the Centres of Excellence are situated is a tremendous source of hope for the future, said Dr Horresh.

“Israel is starving for sharp, innovative intellects which will stimulate further growth in the “リstartup nation’,”? he said. “But, also, getting a scientific and technological education can make you a better citizen. Even if you don’t go into science or technology-related career an education that directs you to rationalism and to be sceptical, this creates a better country.”?