How many in Israel realize that this country was recently declared the
second-best educated in the world (after Canada)? How many know that a recent
survey declared Israel the first in the world in hitech research and development
Odds are that very few do. In our society, bad news is given
resonance and the good is relegated to the margins.
fifth-graders do badly in international math evaluations, the entire country
seethes. This feeds political recriminations that generate more headlines for
days to follow. Our successes rarely, if ever, receive notice.
are without a doubt more self-scrutinizing than the citizens of most other
Self-criticism is clearly not readily quantifiable, but we are
probably second to none in that characteristic. It often works to our detriment,
but it does also almost certainly reinforce our democracy. It constitutes an
inestimable source of intellectual ferment and strength. In that sense, we are
unique in our region.
And yet elsewhere, contrary to our own proven
penchant for griping, our strength does not go unrecognized – even if we fail to
crow about it. Thus two enlightening news items went almost ignored by local
A new OECD study – its Education at a Glance report for 2012 –
ranks Israel second (among all 34 OECD members as well as eight other major
economies) in the proportion of adults with higher-education
Canada came in first with 51 percent. Israel followed with 46%,
ahead of Japan (45%), the US (42%) and New Zealand (41%). Next, from the sixth
to 10th slots, respectively, came South Korea, Norway, the UK, Australia and
The OECD average is 31% with tertiary education degrees, well
below Israel. When Israel joined the OECD in 2010 it already boasted a 92% rate
of high school graduation, whereas the OECD average was 84%.
nothing to scoff at. It is axiomatic that well-educated populations are
prerequisite for successful, developed economies.
Israel’s success shows.
It manifested itself, for example, in the latest Bloomberg Innovation Index that
ranks Israel first among 50 countries in the Research and Development intensity
This makes Israel a force to be reckoned with, even if its
overall ranking on the seven-factor index was only 32rd.
dragged down by not being ranked in two categories and by coming in 24th in
productivity and 41st in patent activity. Israel managed, however, a respectable
seventh ranking on both hi-tech density (the proportion of publicly traded
hi-tech companies among all publicly traded companies) and tertiary efficiency
(the ratio of university graduates among employees in the spheres of in science,
engineering and manufacturing).
While we surely aspire for greater
achievement, our glass is more than half full. There is much we can rightly take
We are a small country with almost everything possible going
against it. We inhabit a minuscule strip of harsh topography, with no natural
resources to speak of and an arid climate to boot. Moreover, we are not allowed
to inhabit this inhospitable sliver of land – in which we built everything from
scratch – in peace.
We are repeatedly besieged, boycotted, attacked,
threatened with outright genocide, delegitimized and demonized. This would
constitute a cumbersome load for any undersized nation, though none has been
subjected to anything approaching our still-ongoing travails and
If we turn our gaze to our own region, our distinction shines
forth all the more impressively. We are surrounded by the Arab realm with its
astounding natural resources, dominating a vast portion of this planet (greater
than the entire continent of Europe and the US put together) and with an immense
population as a potential reservoir of resourcefulness. But our minute Israeli
island of democracy, ingenuity and scholarship produces an incomparably greater
contribution to human learning and innovation.
It would do us well to
gain a sense of proportion and look around us to be able to better gauge the
achievements of our diminutive, beleaguered yet nevertheless excelling
collective. A brief let-up from our habitual carping would not go amiss.