Education and Israel’s Future

Two interesting items in the news in Israel this week:

1. Deloitte announced the results of its annual survey of fastest growing technology firms in EMEA. The first three spots were taken by Israeli firms: Voltaire, Celltick and Runcom.

2. The Ministry of Education published the results of the 2006 PIRLS tests. These tests measure and compare the proficiency of school students across 45 countries. Russia, Hong Kong and Singapore took the first three places; Israel got in at the 31st place.

These two seemingly unrelated stories tell a very strong story.

Israel has no natural resources. It is a country burdened by high military expenditures. Its traditional industries, such as agriculture and diamond-cutting, are disappearing. The growth engine of Israel’s economy in the past couple of decades has been the high-tech sector. In other words: Israel’s future depends on “knowledge workers”, people who can use their brains to create value.

The achievements of Israeli school children compared to those of their peers in Asia does not bode well for this country’s future. Throw in the ongoing strike by high-school teachers and university professors (both get ridiculously low salaries), and the outlook is even gloomier.

Israel today is a leader the high-tech industry, worldwide. But this remarkable accomplishment is in grave danger. Continuing to ignore the fundamental problems in the Israeli education system – from kindergarten to PhDs – puts the future of this country at risk. The real threat to Israells’ future does not come from Ahmadinejad and his likes. It comes from Israeli governments continuing to neglect the most important asset this country has: its people’s education.

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