There’s the good news about Israeli education”ﾦ and the bad news. The good news is that the country has the world’s second most highly educated population. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s annual “Education at a Glance” report for 2012, 46 per cent of Israelis between the ages of 25 and 64 have received a university degree or some other form of higher education compared to the global average of 30 per cent.
The bad news, as Nechama Kenig, a pedagogical director with World ORT in Israel, has been telling a wide range of Jewish Federation members and ORT supporters in America in recent days, is that 40 per cent of Israeli high schools do not teach science at an advanced level, 61 per cent of schools don’t teach chemistry at an advanced level “ﾓ and a mere five per cent of high school students are learning physics, chemistry and biology together at an advanced level.
But she has not been all doom and gloom: together with Nawal Zaroura, a chemistry teacher at World ORT-affiliated Kfar Kana High School, and Nell Racabi, a student at World ORT-affiliated Western Galilee Regional High School, she has enthusiastically shared World ORT’s successes in making science and technology more attractive to young Israelis.
Since 2007, World ORT has rolled out a series of initiatives under the banner Kadima Mada which are designed to raise the quality, and increase the popularity, of science and technology in schools serving relatively underprivileged communities in Israel’s periphery.
“Making the learning of science and technology fun through our MABAT robotics programme in middle schools, the introduction of robotics in kindergartens, the Mada-Na mobile science exhibition, the creation of a “ﾘScience City’ in Kiryat Yam with the building of the Alex and Betty Schoenbaum Science, Educational, Cultural and Sports Campus, and installing 1,000 interactive whiteboards under the Schulich Canada Smart Classroom Initiative and, this month, the opening of five “ﾘYOU-niversities’ offering an exciting range of quality extra-curricular science learning”ﾦ all our affiliated schools teach science to an advanced level,”? said Ms Kenig.
Today, Kadima Mada is active in 200 schools, has trained more than 3,300 teachers and serves more than 100,000 pupils in under-resourced areas.
“Where there’s a need World ORT will create a solution,”? she continued. “For example, there’s a shortage of civil engineers so we’ve started a project in two schools focusing on transportation, and we’ll be doing something similar to inspire kids to become water engineers. We’ve supplied very modern equipment which makes classes more engaging thanks to which a higher percentage of students in the schools we support are learning sciences and results are improving.”?
In Kiryat Yam’s Rodman High School, for example, only half the students were matriculating before World ORT came on the scene. Now, that figure is 88 per cent.
“That couldn’t have been accomplished without World ORT’s help, supplying new equipment and changing the atmosphere of the schools,”? Ms Kenig said.
Technion trained chemistry teacher Nawal Zaroura has enjoyed seeing the benefits in her school, which serves the Arab town of Kfar Kana. There, in the town where Jesus is said to have turned water into wine, World ORT is helping to create a new generation of scientists.
“Six years ago, less than 40 per cent of our students matriculated in chemistry. But the Smart boards which World ORT gave us have made classes more exciting. Thanks to World ORT we have laboratories where we can conduct experiments and computerised data loggers which mean we can discuss results straight away. And because the Smart Boards are connected to the Internet I can show videos of experiments which would be too dangerous for us to do. World ORT’s support has created a whole new way of learning for our students “ﾓ 60 per cent of them now take the chemistry matriculation exam and we’ve had to open a new class to accommodate the growth. And we’re in the top 10 schools in Israel for the results we achieve in this subject,”? said Ms Zaroura, who is about to complete a Masters degree in science education at the Weizmann Institute.
She and Ms Kenig were joined by high school student Nell Racabi in meeting with members of Jewish Federations from New York, Pensacola, Florida, Kalamazoo, Michigan, and New Jersey as well as at the International Lion of Judah Conference breakout session titled, “Breaking the Glass Ceiling in Israel’s Science and High-Tech Sector”? which examined why women are increasingly choosing careers in high-tech industries.
Nell could soon be among them. She is one of the five per cent of students nationally studying chemistry, physics and biology majors concurrently.
“At first the school objected because they thought it would be too stressful for me but I persisted and my passion for science gives me the strength I need to make it work,”? she said.
The teenager is a big fan of the Mada-Na mobile science exhibition. Comprised of five rotating exhibitions, each with 15 hands-on models that demonstrate different physics theories, Mada-Na sparks the excitement of children as they experience the wonders of mechanics, optics, electricity, magnetism, heat, liquids and gas.
And she says the introduction of Smart Classes has also drawn many more kids to science.
“They make studying more creative; they’re what kids my age want. Before, when the teacher was standing at the front with a whiteboard and marker pens it got boring. Now, with the interactive whiteboards we watch movies, search on-line”ﾦ they make a huge difference. I talk to younger kids and they just want to use the new equipment because it makes studying more fun, which it should be. It’s teaching them that science can, and should, be fun.”?
Earlier this year, the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness report ranked Israel’s education system a paltry 53rd out of 144 countries.
“If not addressed, poor educational quality, particularly in math and science could undermine Israel’s innovation-driven competitiveness strategy over the longer term,” the report wrote.
The report’s comments were echoed by Amir Hayak, CEO of the Manufacturers Association of Israel. He told YNet.com that he was particularly concerned by the reported decline in maths and science education: “If we don’t work together to restore the education system, we will find ourselves at a loss.”
Mr Hayak can rest assured that World ORT is working effectively with government ministries, municipalities, schools and teachers to reverse the decline and ensure that new science savvy generations will become available to work in Israel’s world-beating high-tech industries.