Shimon Peres and Gideon Saar with students 311.
(photo credit: Muki Schwartz)
Concerned by the lack of interest in science and engineering on the part of
Israeli university students, President Shimon Peres, a couple of years back,
came up with the initiative of creating a national project that would encourage
gifted and outstanding students to opt for technological and scientific
The president’s concern was rooted in the fact that Israel’s
major achievements in agriculture, industry, medical equipment, defense and
other spheres are all based on scientific and technological innovation that has
proved to be Israel’s greatest asset.
He was worried that if the impetus
for meeting the challenge of creating new scientific and technological solutions
to a variety of problems dissipated, Israel would lose the respect that its
inventiveness has won in the world.
Peres didn’t want to wait for
students to graduate from high school.
He wanted to get them into the
system at as early an age as possible.
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar
was all in favor as were various Israeli institutes of higher learning and a
number of companies operating science- based industries.
He said that
although Israel is a small country it has produced several great scientists
including Nobel Prize laureates.
The enthusiasm was there, but the money
wasn’t until Peres approached the Rashi Foundation and several other
philanthropic groups and individuals.
The Rashi Foundation, which has
been active in numerous educational, cultural and social welfare projects in
Israel for almost a quarter of a century was asked to prepare a four-year
program for students to study in optimal conditions until they completed 12th
grade and went on to institutes of higher education in combination with their
A trial program was launched with a summer school for 50
students in July 2009. The experiment continued in conjunction with several
universities, institutes and colleges, and the program was officially
inaugurated on Monday at a ceremony at the President’s Residence attended by the
scientists and inventors of tomorrow, industrialists, academics,
philanthropists, representatives of government and of course the next generation
of gifted youngsters, who despite their commitment to science could in no way be
described as nerds.
Francois Leven, speaking on behalf of the Rashi
Foundation, said that when Peres had put the proposition, everyone at the
foundation had been excited about being part of such a unique and highly
significant program, but he personally had been surprised that no such project
existed in Israel.
Leven stressed the importance of the project to
Israel’s future economy and predicted that Israeli mothers, instead of wishing
for their sons and daughters to grow up to be doctors and lawyers, will want
them to be leaders in high tech, which Leven said “is essential for this
While appreciative of the input of industrialists and other
philanthropic bodies, Leven said he hoped to enlarge the circle of philanthropic
partnership in the project.
He was encouraged by the impressive
commitment of youngsters who have already participated in the project, learning
not only theory but practice.
Some of the youngsters involved have barely
reached double digit ages, but most were aged from 14 to 16.
are open to all gifted Israeli high school students regardless of creed or
A faculty member who introduced himself simply as Uri,
was full of praise for the interaction between students and teachers, noting
that the teachers are all experienced professionals in their fields with lots of
charisma and sensitivity while the students are both curious and motivated.