Cyber-program students set for ‘capture the flag’ coding contest

Rashi Foundation’s Magshimim program aims to nurture the next generation of tech leaders from Israel’s periphery

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Students at the Magshimim education program in Herzeliya (Courtesy Kfir Bolotin)
Students at the Magshimim education program in Herzeliya (Courtesy Kfir Bolotin)

Some 200 students from the national cybereducation program Magshimim will take part in a coding competition at the offices of Check Point Software Technologies in Tel Aviv overnight Thursday to Friday.

The competition, titled Magshimim Ultimate Challenge, will bring together 12th-grade students from Tel Hai in the north to Yeruham in the south who are in the third and final year in the program.

The event will be attended by Rashi Foundation board members and senior representatives of Check Point and the military and security establishment.

The competition will start at 7 p.m., and the competing groups will try to “capture the flag” of countries around the world by solving various challenges. The winners will be announced at 5:30 in the morning.

“Before capturing the flag, students will have to solve a complex thinking challenge,” said Sagy Bar, the CEO of the cybereducation center of Rashi Foundation, an independent private foundation that aims to assist the underprivileged in Israel’s geographic and social periphery. “The aim of the students is to win the competition. Our aim is to take them out of their comfort zones and expose them to teamwork, new subjects and questions they don’t encounter in their daily studies.”

Students at the Magshimim education program in Herzeliya (Courtesy Kfir Bolotin)
Students at the Magshimim education program in Herzliya (Courtesy Kfir Bolotin)

Magshimim is an excellence program in computers and cyberstudies for high school students (10th-12th grade) from the periphery. Its goal is to nurture the next generation of leaders for Israel’s high-tech industry and cybersecurity via the IDF’s cyberforce. After undergoing a rigorous selection process, Magshimim students start a three-year training course with two after-school sessions a week, along with motivational activities and visits to high-tech companies.

“We give our students the opportunity to learn to think out of the box and help them take part in the high-tech and cyber ecosystem of Israel,” said Bar.

At present Magshimim operates 27 study centers across the country with a total of 1,500 students. To date, more than 75% of its graduates were accepted to the cyber and Intelligence units of the IDF.

The program is a win for all sides, said Bar. The students attain skills that help them get into the tech units of the army, and the army can tap into diverse populations, not just those who live in the big cities, for its tech units.

Aspiring to the IDF cyber-unit

“I have always looked for a program like Magshimim that would give me scientific knowledge, but it has been hard to find in the periphery,” said Lee Oren, a 16-year-old from Afula who has been studying at the program for a year and a half and wants to join an IDF cyber unit once she finishes school. “Without Magshimim my chances to get to the unit would be much lower.”

After the army she wants to study engineering or computer programming and math at university, and hopefully find a job in high-tech after that.

A new survey conducted by the Rashi Foundation of close to 200 Magshimim participants in 11th-12th grade looked into the quantity and quality of after-school programs in science and computers in periphery towns. Most of the students included in the survey (85%) live south of Ashdod or north of Afula.

Asked whether their hometowns have enrichment clubs or after-school program in science fields or computers, 60% said that there are few or no such activities; only 16% said that there are many programs of this type. The survey was carried out by the initiative of the Rashi Foundation’s Cyber Education Center.

According to 77% of the respondents, science enrichment programs are more widely available in the center of the country than in the periphery, and only 20% believed these programs existed everywhere to the same extent. Still, 64% of the students thought that their chances of getting accepted to IDF cyber units are as good or better than those of their peers in the central region.

Most of the students (92%) said that taking part in after-school science and technology programs will significantly affect their chances of getting accepted to the cyber units, and eventually going on to academic studies and careers in high-tech. Approximately half of them were not involved previously in informal programs in computers or science, and they believed that if not for Magshimim, they wouldn’t have gained knowledge in this field.

Edeo Tsur, 18 from Moshav Zippori in the north of the country, is in the third year of the Magshimim program. “I see the program as a springboard and a place to develop and study subjects I am interested in,” he said. He too wants to enter the IDF’s cyber unit and then find a job in high-tech.”I believe Magshimim will help me to get what I want because of the tools and knowledge it gives me.”

Magshimim was launched seven years ago by the Rashi Foundation and the Defense Ministry to boost efforts to recruit more tech personnel to the IDF. In 2014 it became a national program, supported by the Prime Minister’s Office and the National Lottery Fund, alongside philanthropic partners such as the Adelis foundation, Davidson Foundation and Keren Daniel. The program operates now as part of Rashi’s Cyber Education Center. In 2012, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared cyberdefense a national priority.

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