Ed-Tech pioneer: Jewish educational talents shine everywhere except Israel

“Israel has everything it needs to become a world-leader in ed-tech but investors aren’t interested.”

Yariv Binnun. (photo credit: ETEACHER)
Yariv Binnun.
(photo credit: ETEACHER)
When two brothers, Yariv and Boaz, founded eTeacher 20 years ago, they got their first contract when the Foreign Ministry hired them to offer online Hebrew classes to children of Israeli diplomats abroad. Now they end 2020 with $31 million in earnings thanks to their focus on online biblical language study and innovative predictive models.   
The novel concept of learning from home, or anywhere a decent web connection can be found, proved successful beyond belief. Today, Yariv Binnun told The Jerusalem Post, their company deals with 50,000 requests for courses from interested would-be students who speak nine different languages, is active in 24 countries and employs 300 teachers.
These days, when Evangelical Christians look for a quality online source to learn Biblical Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic to gain a better understanding of scripture, they often select eTeacher. Courses are offered via the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies which is affiliated with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 2019 that market generated the company roughly $12 m., TheMarker reported, more than half its earnings at the time.   
“We offer other courses as well,” Binnun told the Post, “such as the geography of the Holy Land and how the Jewish faith shaped Christianity.”  
He added that there are currently 20,000 Evangelical students registered to online courses all over the world and that 2020 saw a sharp increase in their numbers.  
“Those who are retired today were in their 50’s when computers became a must-have item,” he explained, “so they already know how to work online."
In addition, he said, “this sector was less hurt by COVID-19 because they have their pension, and now have more time to spend at home.”  
The novel coronavirus, he told the Post, “made everything go online – even things like cooking or painting which I never believed could survive that transition.”  
Not only does eTeacher focus on offering students worthy teachers, it invests in learning about its clients.
“We used to call people back minutes after they sent an online request,” Binnun laughs, “the problem with that? People sometimes send such requests at midnight before they go to sleep. Our sales rep would call someone in bed and get yelled at. Today we know better.”  
Despite Israel being a world-leader in cyber defense, health innovation and agriculture, investors aren’t as eager to finance the next leap forward in ed-tech.
Binnun thinks that a part of it is the long time it takes to see a return on investment in the field of education when compared to other forms of start-ups.   
“Israel has everything it needs to become a world-leader at ed-tech," he said, “but investors aren’t interested.”
He added that “Jewish educational talents shine everywhere but here.”  
FOR CO-FOUNDER and CEO of examPAL Oren Jackman, there are at least two reasons for this situation.
"In education, global means local," he said. "You need to sell to a series of local markets before you begin sales on a global level."
This is because education is very content-specific and different cultures have different perspectives on it. Not only would Germany be different than Italy, he pointed out, different regions of the German Federal Republic have different needs. In other hi-tech sectors, the product can be sold without too many changes to suit a variety of clients – not so in education.
"It's a conservative market," he added. Before the school system in one US state adopts your solution, "they want to see you have a few years under your belt." Investors seeking a quick return on the dollar may not be as keen to turn in that direction.
When he began the company five years ago, Jackman solved some of his funding concerns by obtaining his proof of concept outside Israel so he could compete on the global market. "We also partnered with international players such as The Economist," he pointed out.
An AI-based platform which studies the way each user thinks, then adapts solution strategies based on the student's strengths and weaknesses, examPAL helps users ace the GMAT, GRE, SAT and ACT exams.