Everything depends on me, and everyone can do everything: That is the motto by which Menny Barzilai, cofounder and chairman of the Michael Project, lives.
Michael – an acronym in Hebrew for “finding personal talents for excellence” – is a unique teaching and empowerment method developed in 1988 by Barzilai and Yuval Aloni in collaboration with education experts.
The method is built on the principle that most people use only between 5% and 7% of their abilities.
Michael aims to expand the amount of learning potential by breaking down barriers, imparting skills and reshaping a person’s self-image to unlock and maximize innate abilities and skills.
“The method knows how to – in a short time, for a low price and high quality – to create a dramatic change in the abilities in every person. If a person’s self-image changes, then all his abilities can change too,” Barzilai told The Jerusalem Post recently.
With the support of the Education Ministry, the program has taught over 300,000 students in the Arab and Jewish sectors in religious and secular schools.
There are no entrance exams, as the basic assumption is that any person can succeed and excel. It only depends on the person.
“We change three things that are inherent in every learning process: who teaches, what we teach and how we teach it,” Barzilai said.
According to the method’s principles, the most effective way to instill change is with the help of a role model.
“What you remember from school is always one teacher or one person who influenced you more than any other and we are looking for those people to teach,” he said.
The mentors – from actors to scientists, accountants to journalists – teach the method after a rigorous selection and training process. Only 100 mentors are chosen out of a pool of thousands, following a nine-month screening process, after which they undergo a onemonth intensive training course.
“We look for people who can be a role model for success, so they can stand in front of a class and students can see a person who has succeeded in life,” he said.
With regard to what is taught, Barzilai said the method imparts skills that are not taught in schools.
“School doesn’t teach skills and the most important ability that a person needs to succeed – and that is creativity,” he said.
“Today there is infinite knowledge and nobody teaches us the skills necessary to manage this information – to develop the memory, to read fast and read to understand,” he said.
In addition to teaching creativity, the method teaches some 70 topics, focusing on subjects including reading comprehension, improving mathematical thought and English language studies.
“The goals of the program are to develop in the student, or soldier, or even an adult, the ability to be independent in his thinking, behavior, in his expectations of his environment,” Barzilai said.
As for how all of these skills and knowledge are imparted, he said the method focuses on cultivating “independent learning.”
“Everything you don’t learn on your own is something that you will eventually forget,” Barzilai said. “And so our entire program aims to create stimuli and conditions so that a person can develop independent learning, the most effective type of learning.”
While critics have questioned the method’s approach, a study conducted by the Michael organization found the rate of achieving high school matriculation certificates among graduates of the program was double that of the general student population.
Michael has been hailed by educators, graduates, former education ministers, the late president Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said the method is “proof positive that there is hope for significant improvements in the education system.”
While the program continues to run successfully in Israel, it has also started to gain attention and interest around the world.
Currently, the program is in talks with three countries – India, the Netherlands and an undisclosed country in Africa – that are interested in implementing the method in their schools.
Michael has also run a pilot program in Bulgaria and has received interest from South Korea.
“This unique Israeli program abroad can be adapted for any country to fit its special needs,” Barzilai said. “Because as I say: ‘Everyone, everywhere can succeed in life with the right skills and abilities. It only depends on them.’”