The start-up nation needs start-up education

Israel Sci-Tech Schools is the largest independent network of science and technology educational institutions in Israel with over 206 institutions and 100,000 students.

Children in classroom (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Children in classroom
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The structure of education in Israel has suffered for decades from both a conceptual and implementation fixation regarding anything that requires adapting to both our nation’s and our student’s changing needs. The simple explanation for this is that successive Israeli governments have not formulated a comprehensive strategic education plan, analyzing existing frameworks and developing clear organizational structures and alternative programs.
Those education ministers who have attempted to institute structural reforms were unable to execute them because of their short-lived positions, and their reluctance to deal with the teachers’ unions. These leaders have preferred to keep the peace rather than promote educational reform in Israel.
One example is the education budget in Israel. Now the second largest budget behind defense, it has not been analyzed in depth or refocused for many years. We need to ask our leaders: where is each shekel channeled to, and what need does it serve?
In almost any successful institution, it is customary to first formulate a vision, then set goals and indices, and finally allocate a budget accordingly. Yet in Israel, for too many years, school budgets have been allocated without any in-depth testing, and certainly without measuring any outcome.
The irrelevant activity of allocating the budget based on sector only reinforces the fact that our education budget’s structure is not only obsolete, but furthermore does not meet the needs in the classroom. What are those needs? That is the question we should be asking. But unfortunately no one seems to have the answer because there has never been an in-depth study mapping out the needs of each school at the student level. Is this how education ought to be constructed or managed in a progressive country?
To break down the traditional budgeting method once and for all, my suggestion is to institute a model of “holistic” education – a program that is already proving itself successful in the Israel Sci- Tech School Network in six different municipalities. In these locations, the budget is calculated and allocated according to the measurable needs and objectives for each student’s growth. As part of the mapping process, the needs of students entering the system are monitored in their transition from kindergarten to high school. The results determine the educational intervention framework the student needs and thus effects the budget allocated, while measuring the progress of the students by way of the intervention processes.
Do Beit She’an students have the same needs as the children of Ramat Hasharon? Do Arad students have the same needs as those of north Tel Aviv? Don’t the composition of the population and its socio-economic status require intervention or empowerment? Don’t schools that accommodate Ethiopian immigrants, immigrants from the former Soviet Union and others necessitate different interventions to provide students with truly equal opportunities in our great country?
When mapping the needs of the students, class size is no longer the crucial factor. The determining factors are issues of intervention and empowerment for our students, thus reducing the number of “sardines” our system mandates be packed into the homeroom class.
Some students need individual empowerment, others need treatment for learning and medical disabilities, for others the school might serve as their primary home and must provide them with hot meals and cultural enrichment. To implement the intervention our students need, new budget allocations must be developed because the old-fashioned, standardized budget used today is only leading us downhill.
Each city and each school must be budgeted separately, and at times the budget must even be based on special populations within each. Budgets need to be transferred from schools with large balances to schools with deficits. Smaller municipalities like Yeruham, Hatzor, Beit She’an, Shlomi and others, which have a smaller student populations, should be given significant budgets to promote equal opportunities among their elementary, middle and high schools, including a greater variety of study tracks in their classrooms.
And what about measuring the results? Many educational networks and municipalities each run their own educational systems, and the state invests billions. What is being done to correct the failures and low results of local municipalities and charter networks? Is there a committee that reviews educational activity? Are under-achieving post-elementary schools being removed from charter networks that do not meet outcome targets?
The system is crying out for change; there is plenty of money. What we need is courage, leadership and integrity to make that change, because the future of the people of Israel depends on it.
Israel Sci-Tech Schools is the largest independent network of science and technology educational institutions in Israel with over 206 institutions and 100,000 students. Today there are more than 500,000 alumni, many of whom have gone on to become senior leaders in the military, high-tech entrepreneurs, as well as some of the top engineers and scientists in Israel. For more information about the organization, please visit http://israel-scitech-
The author is director general of the Israel Sci-Tech Schools Network.