Education for Life: Social mobility through experiential education

The Rashi Foundation: Advancing experiential education in Israel’s periphery.

 Erez Roimi, head of entrepreneurship and innovation at the Rashi Foundation (photo credit: Sinai Yitzchak, Rigushim)
Erez Roimi, head of entrepreneurship and innovation at the Rashi Foundation
(photo credit: Sinai Yitzchak, Rigushim)

What are the skills that the children of today will need to succeed in the world of tomorrow? With experts estimating that 70% of the professions of the future have not yet been invented, it is difficult to know where to begin. How can schools and parents meet this challenge?

The Rashi Foundation, one of Israel’s preeminent private philanthropies that promotes social mobility in Israel’s geo-social periphery, has been studying this issue for the past two years. After extensive research, experts at the foundation have concluded that experiential education is one of the key factors that can advance social mobility and have targeted its development as a core area of the foundation’s work.

Recently, this writer spoke with Erez Roimi, head of entrepreneurship and innovation at the Rashi Foundation, to learn more about the importance of experiential education in Israel today, its application in Israel’s periphery and the foundation’s activities in this area. Roimi, a serial social entrepreneur with over twenty years of experience in the field, explains the benefits of extracurricular activities such as youth organizations, enrichment studies, sports, leadership and entrepreneurship programs and more.

“Experiential education promotes the values, skills and knowledge that allow the child to reach their potential,” says Roimi. Experiential education is accessible, requires less elaborate physical or organizational structures, and offers invaluable opportunities to children, especially in the geo-social periphery. It provides them with a sense of identity and belonging, resilience, the ability to deal with failures and the ability to have a positive vision for the future. “It leads to independent learning that does not necessarily come directly from the teacher to the student,” he adds.

Roimi notes that approximately 3% of the Education Ministry budget is set aside for experiential education. While it is essential for students to learn basic skills such as reading, writing and mathematics, he notes that the ability to communicate, interact with people and different environments and handle failure – all components of experiential education – are equally important. Moreover, research shows that participation in extracurricular activities has a positive effect on school outcomes and reduces risky behavior, especially for youth from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“We see graduates of experiential educational programs who have achieved a great deal in the IDF, in high-tech and in other fields, not only because of the high grades they received in school, but because of the abilities and self-confidence they developed through experiential education,” he says.

An outstanding example of an after-school activity that provides children with a great deal of educational value, says Roimi, is participation in youth organizations and youth movements. Youngsters learn to deal with difficulties on group hikes and learn how to work together as a team. Learning to deal with someone who doesn’t want to accept one’s point of view is also an important skill, as is the sense of identity and belonging that comes with being a part of a youth movement community.

Other examples of valuable experiences, he says, are participating in student council activities, sports, entrepreneurship, volunteering, after-school activities, art, nature and music. “It is critical to give children the tools that they need, not only for personal development but also in terms of their career prospects and for life in general,” says Roimi. “In the past, children needed to learn a specific skill. Today, jobs are changing. Today we need to be flexible.”

How accessible is experiential education in Israel? Overall, says Roimi, 30% of Israeli students participate in youth organizations and youth movements. Unfortunately, the percentage is far lower among youth in Israel’s periphery. Roimi explains that there are several reasons why participation in experiential education is lower in the periphery. Many families in the periphery do not have the economic means to fund such experiences.

There is a cultural component at play as well. If relatively few students from the periphery participate, then others will see that it is not a popular activity among their group, and they will not join. Additionally, municipalities in Israel’s peripheral areas, he says, may not be able to track and locate children in their towns to invite and encourage them to participate in experiential activities.

Children in Israel’s periphery are being deprived of the ability to participate in experiential activities, he laments, and as a result, are losing social mobility opportunities to advance and build better lives for themselves.

The Rashi Foundation has decided to devote a significant amount of resources to developing and strengthening experiential education for Israeli children and youth in the periphery, while forming cross-sector partnerships to lead a nationwide initiative with significant impact. This partnership will include the important professional organizations that are already working in this field, along with the central and local government, other philanthropies, civil society and the business sector.

“We are starting to work with local municipalities,” says Roimi, “to strengthen their abilities and to provide more opportunities for experiential education. We want more participants in youth groups and youth movements, community centers, and more opportunities overall. We want to be able to locate the youth in the towns, and we need more youth activities.”  

In order to enlarge the public investment in experiential education, the initiative intends to work in conjunction with the government to increase its budget allocation for this purpose, says Roimi.

Another area of activity in the periphery is working to increase awareness of the advantages of experiential education. Children, parents and local decision-makers, says Roimi, must be made aware of the benefits of experiential education, so that local investment in these areas will be increased.      

At the same time, the initiative will focus on training agents of change, such as counselors of youth groups, to position them properly to lead programs and present opportunities to local youth. In this way, the foundation hopes to increase the number of children who participate in these programs and provide more diverse choices in the field. “The more exposure children have to experiential education, the more social mobility they will be able to leverage,” says Roimi.

In the context of the current struggles in Israel, Roimi suggests that experiential education, with its focus on seeing and understanding differences among people, can increase tolerance and the ability to accept others, even if they don’t share the same point of view.

Although there is extensive activity in the field of experiential education in Israel, a single organization, or even multiple organizations that operate separately will not bring about the necessary change. We need national goals and joint work of the leading organizations together with the local authorities and the government. The Rashi Foundation aims to create a movement of organizations and people from all sectors working together to promote experiential education. We call it education for life.

This article was written in cooperation with the Rashi Foundation.