Just two days before children head back to their classrooms, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, in conjunction with former president Shimon Peres, launched a national plan aimed at bolstering mathematical studies.
“The threat to mathematical studies is a strategic threat, and for a strategic threat a national program is necessary,” Bennett said on Sunday.
Promoted with the slogan “Give to yourself, give to the country – Give Five!” it aims to enable pupils in every high school to take five units – the highest level – of mathematics, regardless of their location.
Chief among the goals of the plans is the intention to double the number enrolled in five units of math to 18,000 within four year’s time, according to the Education Ministry.
Bennett’s partners in launching the national math program are Peres and a number of the country’s hi-tech companies.
“Israel has been blessed with talents capable of reaching unforeseen heights, but they must be cultivated,” Peres said.
“We cannot accept a situation in which in the State of Israel children who are capable of studying five units at school cannot do so due to lack of means. A financial deficit is possible to repair later – an educational deficit is not possible to repair.”
With the ultimate goal of doubling the number taking five-unit math courses within four years, the ministry’s program focuses on providing equal opportunities to all those qualified to pursue this path.
In doing so, the ministry said that this year 100 new fiveunit tracks will be opening. For the first time, a five-unit math course will be allowed to operate with at least six students, as opposed to the previous minimum of 15.
“I know that there are many who disagree with me regarding the need to massively strengthen mathematics, but the role of a leader is to determine national objectives and pursue them with all our might – and we’ll double the number of students within four years,” Bennett said. “Gone are the days that a child wanted to take a five-unit matriculation exam, but could not do so because of his place of residence. In the national mathematics program, the child will strengthen his own future and will also help the future of the State of Israel.”
In order to prevent students from dropping out of five units and into four, the Education Ministry pledged to invest more in each individual pupil and encourage excellence. Specifically, the national plan involves adding 15,000 hours to math instruction, enabling small group learning and monitoring progress according the individual’s pace, the ministry said.
Also within four year’s time, the national program aims to double the number of teachers administrating five-unit courses to 2,000 from 1,000. To accomplish this goal, the ministry announced plans to invest additional resources in training and providing incentives for those interested in teaching math.
The national program involves institutionalizing a National Public Forum for the Study of Mathematics, which will serve to coordinate the educational system alongside senior industry executives, the hi-tech sector, the IDF, nongovernmental organizations and academia, according to the ministry.
As part of the program’s effort to boost motivation to study math, the Education Ministry said it plans to recruit 500 outstanding hi-tech professionals to assist teachers throughout the year, by holding meetings at schools as well as organizing field trips. Some of the companies already involved include Intel, SanDisk, Microsoft and Marvell Israel.
An additional incentive to pursue the highest level of math studies will be the new stipulation that every student taking the five-unit matriculation exam will receive 30 bonus points when applying to university, the ministry said. For some academic institutions, this number will be extended to 35.
Meanwhile, about 20 selected teachers will lead about 200 other teachers in “Five Club” learning communities, to foster professional development in the subject, the ministry said.
Alongside the program’s launch, the Education Ministry said it is mobilizing its public “Give Five” campaign, to encourage students to take up the challenge of studying five units of math, as well as raise awareness among parents and reach out to hi-tech professionals interested in volunteering their time to the effort.
The poster child for this campaign is none other than the former president, who stars thus far in three Education Ministry YouTube videos on the subject.
In the first video, Peres tells a lineup of pupils, “Everything that we’ve done, we did with 10 fingers. You need just five.”
He then goes on to give the entire line of students high fives.
Continuing the theme of high fives, Peres distributes the friendly hand gestures to a series of young hi-tech entrepreneurs in the second video.
One-by-one, he reads out the school assignments for each company recruit heading to volunteer their time at mathematical programs.
The third video features a classroom of students – the former president sitting them – asked by their teacher to solve a problem on the whiteboard.
All of the students eagerly raise their hands, except Peres, who sends his response to her via paper airplane. Despite the teacher demanding a “conversation with his parents,” Peres submits the correct answer – prompting the teacher to add, “Perhaps something will come of you regardless.”
The ads speak directly to the three groups of people relevant to the ministry’s campaign – the pupils themselves, the potential hi-tech volunteers and to the parents.
As part of the kickoff of the national program on Sunday, however, Peres warned that while Israel may be “the symbol of a Start-Up Nation,” there is no guarantee that such a status will last forever.
“A Start-Up Nation is not a one-time process – it is impossible to buy scientific excellence one time and that’s it,” he said.
Backing up these warnings, the Education Ministry presented data demonstrating a significant drop in recent years in the number of students taking five-unit math courses.
Although in 2006, 12,900 students were enrolled, in 2013, only 9,100 took five units.
Israel’s situation has also deteriorated in comparison to that of other countries, the ministry stressed, citing data from the Nuffield Foundation.
While more than 31 percent of students in Japan, Korea, Singapore and New Zealand are enrolled in five-unit equivalent courses, the same can be said for only about 9.1% of students in Israel, the ministry said.
“In order to stand up to global competition in the international market, the state must invest the maximum, to make first-class science possible for students,” Peres added. “Science and technology professionals rely on mathematics, and therefore, the advancement of studies and vigorous striving for scientific excellence are an existential necessity and a primary interest for the future of Israel.”