Israel is the Start-up Nation. It has unprecedented start-up and entrepreneurship rates, strong innovation ecosystems and availability of talented professionals. But what about when it comes to education?
It is estimated that Israeli education expenditures exceed defense expenditures, becoming the government’s largest budget item. Yet the average score of Israeli children in core subjects still lags behind the average of other developed nations.
Investment in education is one of the most important things we can do to promote an equal society, particularly for children from low socioeconomic families. When we look at the achievement gaps in the Israeli education system, we see that children living in the underserved periphery do not have the same opportunities as their peers living in more affluent communities. From an early age, they are left behind.
This results from lack of access to educational resources that include: school funding, experienced and qualified educators, new technologies, equipment, school facilities and enrichment activities. Many children living in low-income communities do not have the support of their families or their environment to think big and pursue their dreams, or the confidence to believe that they can rise above their circumstances.
I have met many young people from the periphery in my work in a number of major educational nonprofits in Israel. One girl stands out starkly. She grew up in the southern desert town of Dimona. I met her when she was in eighth grade. Her teachers said that she was brilliant, especially in the exact sciences. She picked up coding on her own. She came from a very difficult family, with her mother raising five children on a minimum wage salary. Her father had completely abandoned his family.
When I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she said, “a supermarket cashier”.
My heart broke. There is nothing wrong with being a cashier. However, this girl, with the right support, has a chance to reach the zenith of Israel’s high-tech ecosystem. But she had no role models, no one pushing her forward, no exposure to what it means to get a college education or how important it was.
I know that there are so many young people like her, whose potential will go to waste if changes are not made in education.
When it comes to changing the educational system, long-term thinking is the key to success. To bring success to our children, our communities, and our entire nation, we need a long-term plan. The problems will only increase if we keep investing in putting bandages over the problems.
Five, ten, and twenty years from now, the underprivileged will have a much larger gap to deal with. The future is full of unique innovations and technology, but many communities are not yet able to access old technology. A large number of children are still growing up without understanding web 2.0. This will only increase as we move toward web 3.0.
Education Gaps and Transformative Mentors
One way to reduce educational inequality is to provide all students with equal access to resources and opportunities. This can be done by investing in early childhood education, expanding after-school enrichment programs, especially in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and increasing spending on education. It is important to improve the quality of teachers, technology and textbooks in all schools. By leveling the playing field, we can give all students a chance to succeed.
In addition to resources, we need to address children’s emotional and social needs. There is a powerful quote from Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, “Every child needs one adult who believes in him/her.”
Each and every student needs at least one trusted adult in their life who serves as a mentor, a role model, and a confidant. We need to build new leaders in our society and it starts with supporting our children and youth. Having risen above many other prominent countries with innovation and technology, the startup nation needs to look at the root causes of social ills and take appropriate measures to address them.
A successful entrepreneur creates something from an idea, a concept. Here lies the opportunity, to invest in lower socioeconomic areas and to receive a greater return on investment (ROI). We need to give growth tools focused on self-solutions for children that will increase their chance for success over time. Critical thinking, a growth mindset, and determination to reach a goal have shown to be the most effective in long-term endeavors. Everyone deserves the chance to achieve their higher potential in equal opportunities for success.
The ethical solution is to give everyone the opportunity to thrive. To be free to make their own choices and make their mistakes, but never to be denied the chance to grow. To have equal resources for high-quality education. To have access to new and innovative growth tools.
The Honorable Israeli President Isaac Herzog drove this point home when he addressed the recent Friends of Ofanim virtual mission. “We educate our children in the image of our hopes and beliefs about what life can and should be,” said the President. “And if we fail to offer them opportunity, if we ignore the ones who are harder to reach, we are failing as active members of a life-affirming society.”
Startup the STEM Education
STEM education is an important way to ensure that future generations are able to thrive in a global economy. By engaging students in STEM disciplines early on, we can help them develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills necessary for success in today’s economy.
The world is developing at warp speed and there is an increasing demand for graduates with STEM skills. Therefore, educators need to develop innovative ways to introduce STEM content to their students in order to prepare them for a future that increasingly demands it.
Giving low-income communities STEM tools will develop opportunities for growth, not only helping each student but strengthening entire communities. It is a bridge to higher opportunity in a world that demands 21st-century skills in order to succeed in the workforce.
Introducing advanced STEM enrichment at a young age opens the door for hands-on, real-life learning and can spark an interest that lasts a lifetime. It will prepare students for STEM careers and ensure our country’s success in the future economy.
My generation has had great success in the STEM field and now it is time for the younger generation to come up with new ideas and innovations. But they will only do so if they realize the importance of STEM education in their lives and know it is an opportunity open to them to excel. It is our responsibility to pave the way and bring them on the innovation train. With the right leadership, Israel could become the global leader in startup education.
“We need to find creative tools to bring the future directly to our children,” says President Herzog, “and give them the option to make it their own.”
Boaz Ozery is the Executive Director of Friends of Ofanim, a 501(c)3 organization in the United States supporting STEM education through bringing state-of-the-art mobile STEM buses and labs to children throughout Israel’s geographic periphery.
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