by Zvi Peleg
During summer vacation for 1.3 million Israeli school children, it’s worth asking what sort of education system we want waiting for them in September.
Will the school system offer experiences to prepare them for life? Will students be able to genuinely prepare for their integration into Israeli society? Will they be exposed to social values and learn to appreciate the importance of contributing to that society?
Answers to these questions depend on our willingness to take the initiative and strive for innovation in education.
In the last few years, there has been much talk of innovation, but we must take action. School can be a vibrant, interesting and enriching place only if we design and actually implement educational programs that can compete, at least to some degree, with the Internet and social networks.
The key to successfully planning and implementing such programs is the creation of a sufficiently attractive combination of innovative content and original activities.
In terms of content, we have to give students tools they can use in the era of technology, focusing on issues relevant to the world of high-tech, biotechnology and science.
And in terms of activity, we have to think outside the box, offering students a dynamic learning process that takes them beyond the four walls of the classroom and brings them into contact with their peers, giving them a social and educational experience at the same time.
Consider the joint Israeli-European Program for Nanotechnology, a virtual campus – the first of its kind and soon to be established in Israel. The program, with the involvement of Israel Sci-Tech Schools Network (ISTSN), will enable students from science and technological schools in Israel and Europe to study nanotechnology together via the Internet.
We can also learn from the success of the Program for Multidisciplinary Engineering, developed by ISTSN and implemented this past school year in seven Jewish day schools in New York to prepare students for a variety of engineering fields, based on the experiences of Israeli students. The graduates of these programs in America will move on this year to a course in biotechnology.
This coming academic year also sees the start of our network’s Municipal Holistic Education Program, involving elementary, junior and high schools working collaboratively, in conjunction with local authorities, taking a holistic approach to students’ emotional, familial and financial needs.
The schools will serve as a greenhouse, encouraging students to develop personal skills such as self-confidence and the ability to learn. The schools will provide extra support for those students at risk of dropping out or being expelled from school, mediating between the students’ families and various professional bodies intended to provide welfare and emotional support. Schools will push students to get involved in community projects.
And in the realm of social integration, there is a program called Service in the Periphery. After completing their matriculation, students have the option to delay army service for a year to work in science and technology schools in the periphery. During their year of service, participants work with at-risk youth and take part in community projects run by schools.
Another community volunteer program, Mechubarim, connects Holocaust survivors to the Internet. Students on science and technology tracks help the elderly by setting up computers in their homes, connecting them to the Internet and showing them how to use their new equipment, teaching them how to stay in touch with family by email and by looking at photographs and documentation.
These ISTSN programs illustrate the direction our educational system should take. If we can manage to make the educational experience richer, we will be able to compete with the media and its attractions, producing young people who are more ready to enter the workforce and more involved in society.
Zvi Peleg is Director General, Israel Sci-Tech Schools Network (ISTSN).