Righting a geographical wrong

Righting a geographical wrong

A new advanced studies program in the north and south gives students the opportunities that, until now, only big city kids had

Students in a Kadima Mada program on a visit to a robot contest in Moscow earlier this year (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Students in a Kadima Mada program on a visit to a robot contest in Moscow earlier this year (Photo credit: Courtesy)

If you want good students, you need good schools. But in Israel’s periphery, good schools are hard to come by. The country as a whole scores poorly on math and science education; according to the World Economic Forum, Israel ranks 89th out of 144 countries in teaching math and science. While that number is pretty awful, Israel does produce its share of Nobel Prize winners, leaders in science and technology, and world-class researchers. How does Israel’s prowess in the sciences jibe with its poor rankings?

Turns out opportunity for teens is a geographical issue. Residents of the major cities in the center of the country have much greater access to programs designed to get kids interested in math, science, and a host of other academic subjects. It’s these kids who are much more likely to get into the best university programs and become the country’s leaders in academic research. Kids in the peripheral areas of the north and south, where advanced programs don’t exist, have fewer less opportunities to learn – and far less of a chance to fulfill their potentials.

Call it discrimination on the basis of residence. But it’s not only unfair to the kids themselves; Israel suffers as well. Could the next Nobel Prize winner, Israeli start-up genius, or giant of industry live in a small town far up north or down south? It’s certainly possible – but without the right opportunities, the kids who have those skills may never be able to develop them. These are valuable human resources that Israel can ill afford to squander.

That’s the rationale behind World ORT’s “You-niversity” program, a world-class after-hours educational program that will give promising students in the north and south the skills and opportunities to “make it.” With the new program, students in five towns — Kiryat Gat, Nazareth, Safed, Nahariya and Dimona — will study advanced subjects with personnel and equipment that, until now, has been unavailable to them.

Each You-niversity study center will partner with some of Israel’s leaders in academia and industry which, like World ORT, are determined to reverse the decline in the number of young people choosing to study the scientific and technological subjects that are essential to the country’s continued economic success. Each center will use local professionals to run courses for local students and also draw on input from national institutions, including the Weizmann Institute of Science, Hebrew University, Ben Gurion University, the Machon Lev-Jerusalem College of Technology, and Micron Industries.

Mentoring is key to the program, which will run after school and vacation days – picking up where “regular” school leaves off, World ORT officials said. The study centers will offer subjects not available at the kids’ day schools, and where school classes can have one teacher dealing with as many as 40 students, YOU-university courses will be limited to about 20 kids who will enjoy the support of two mentors.

The $15 million program is being managed by World ORT’s arm in Israel, Kadima Mada, helping kids to deepen their knowledge in fields such as astronomy, physics, medicine, genetics and applied art. The funding is being provided by World ORT and the Ministry of Development for the Negev and Galilee. Money will never be an issue, World ORT officials said; a nominal fee is being charged, but it will be waived if needed. The one criterion for entry is determination to succeed, and to this end applicants will be interviewed.

For Israel the World ORT investment is definitely a boon, said Silvan Shalom, deputy prime minister and minister of development of the Negev and Galilee. “Education is the mirror of the country: We need to prioritize the needs of children in the periphery so that they can become top educational achievers. This kind of educational collaboration enhances the Ministry’s ability to invest in the children of the periphery, from north to south.”

According to World ORT director general and CEO Robert Singer, “You-niversities will be a meeting point between youth in the periphery and leading figures in academia and industry. The teenagers will be encouraged to aim high and will receive the skills and knowledge to realize their aspirations.”

It’s a righting of a geographical wrong — and the country will be the biggest beneficiary.

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