Peres initiative opens door to future scientists, inventors

Peres doesn’t want to wait for students to graduate from high school. He wants to get them into the system at as early an age as possible.

Shimon Peres and Gideon Saar with students 311 (photo credit: Muki Schwartz)
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 studies.
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 army service.
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 country.”
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.
The courses are open to all gifted Israeli high school students regardless of creed or ethnic background.
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.