The ORT Israel educational network held its first international Summit for Start-up Education in Jerusalem on Tuesday. The event highlighted an impending problem that Israel and the European Union share – the ever growing lack of skilled workers in science and technology, and declining productivity.
The summit drew much interest from the EU, whose technocrats arrived keen on learning about the proposed solution.
“Today the hi-tech sector in Israel creates between 7,000 and 10,000 new jobs a year, especially in the fields of software engineering, while the higher education system creates barely even 5,000 skilled workers,” Aaron Mankovski, managing partner of Israel’s largest venture capital group, Pitango, told The Jerusalem Post at the start-up education summit.
But Israel is not alone. According to an internal EU report, four out of 10 European companies have reported difficulties in finding employees skilled in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM subjects.
In Israel, according to an evaluation by the Economy Ministry, there is a shortage of some 10,000 employees in the hi-tech sector. While the developed world is growing more and more dependent on hi-tech both for national progress and economic wealth, a recent OECD study shows that its member countries, including Israel, are producing fewer and fewer qualified hi-tech workers.
“The problem is inadequate education,” Zvi Peleg, director of ORT Israel, told the Post.
“Students leave the formal education system with zero skills in STEM subjects and therefore are not accepted or don’t even want to take university subjects that would make them eligible employees for the hi-tech sector.
“You can’t start teaching science and technology late in high school and expect immediate long-term results. Children need to be exposed to STEM subjects as early as kindergarten and to be pushed toward them early on.”
Peleg might very well be right, since the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test has been showing Israel’s decline over the years compared to other OECD countries. Unlike other international math and science aptitude tests, the goal of the PISA test is to determine a student’s problem- solving abilities and productivity potential after graduation, rather than test the ability to memorize. While the tests show a general trend of decline in the OECD countries, Israel’s percentage of failure in PISA is second only to Qatar.
“We are observing a decline especially in entrepreneurship and education in the sciences, technology and mathematics is part of the solution,” Madlen Serban, director of the European Training Foundation (ETF), told the Post.
The ETF is a European Union agency that deals with human capital development through educational reform, training and labor market systems.
The possible solution that has EU representatives curious about is ORT’s ISTEAM program.
The program emphasizes a more holistic approach to STEM subjects, by offering accelerated studies to all age groups in ORT schools, as well as adding innovation and art into the mix. ORT has developed the ISTEAM curriculum and educational model to include innovation, science, technology, art, mathematics.
According to ORT, it brings all those disciplines together to nurture the skill set determined by the OECD’s PISA.
ORT is the largest educational network in Israel, with 205 comprehensive high schools, industrial schools, educational centers, and technical, engineering and academic colleges throughout the country. The majority of ORT schools are located in the social periphery and in low socioeconomic population centers, including in Arab and haredi sectors.
ORT developed the ISTEAM program together with Nobel Chemistry Prize laureate Prof.
Dan Shechtman and the IDF Intelligence Corps Unit 8200. Partners for the program and the summit include the Pitango venture capital group and the Prese Center for Peace and Innovation, Bank Hapoalim, the Friends of Israel Sci-Tech Schools Network, and the Israel Aerospace Industries.
Since the program was introduced by ORT into its schools, students have not only been given formal classes but also the tools and resources to develop and execute their own start-up ideas.
A team form ORT Ariel has developed an autonomous drone capable of locating liquid pollution outbreaks and deploying chemicals that counteract the damage caused by oil or gasoline spills. Another team from ORT Arad is developing a computer program that helps special needs teachers identify the needs of children with autism in a subtle and stress-reducing way.
A haredi ORT boarding school in Afula has been offering ultra-Orthodox youths from low-income backgrounds vocational training in CNC software programming and computer network communication. Following a successful first year, two graduates decided to join an IDF Cyber Intelligence unit and the others received a diploma recognized by the Economy Ministry.
“In the end it’s not just about jobs, it’s about the citizens’ well being and what education can do to help them learn what they are in need of, and then contribute to a better community,” said Serban.
“We are taking the experience we gained from ISTEAM to a summit in Brussels next week, and making what works in Israel visible to our partners countries and EU member states,” said Serban. “I see Israel as a world champion, that’s why the European Union is very much encouraging Israel to participate in our educational programs.”