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October 5, 2016 10:51 am

Israeli Education Key to Country’s Innovation Success

avatar by Eliana Rudee / JNS.org

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Israel's Minister of Education Naftali Bennett addresses the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development summit in Jerusalem. Photo: Eliana Rudee.

Israel’s Minister of Education Naftali Bennett addresses the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development summit in Jerusalem. Photo: Eliana Rudee.

Education ministers, senior delegations and high-ranking officials from some 30 countries arrived in Israel this week for a three-day summit on “innovation in education and educating for innovation.”

Sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the first day featured a tour of Jerusalem and educational institutions, followed by two days of learning about Israeli innovation, focusing on the country’s formal and informal education systems.

The summit, hosted by Israel’s Ministry of Education and the heads of the OECD, discussed how technology and social innovation could be incorporated into education systems around the world.

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According to Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennett, “The summit, held in Jerusalem, is the proper response to the delegitimization campaign. Israel is known as the ‘start-up nation,’ and the conference allows us to show the world’s leading professionals the expansive educational work done here. By participating, senior officials from dozens of countries will be voting against BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] and for Israel.”

Delegates heard from Bennett and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, followed by Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills for OECD, Martine Reicherts, director general for education and culture for the European Commission and Anthony Mackay, CEO of Australia’s Centre for Strategic Education.

President Rivlin stressed the importance of an education focused on diversity and dialogue, arguing, “We all ask ourselves about the influences of the global world on local and global identities. The answer is education for partnership, increasing a sense of positive identity for each community, and at the same time, insisting on teaching understanding about the different people and groups.” He continued, “We need to provide skills to debate, yet respect different outlooks, create bridges and train teachers to be partnership leaders.” As proof of the success of Israel’s model, Rivlin cited the Jewish state boasting the highest achievements in tertiary education among OECD countries and its being the third-most educated country in terms of high school and higher education graduates.

Bennett explained that Israel’s model of innovation could provide a solution for struggling economies. “I cannot imagine a more relevant and timely topic than innovation and entrepreneurship,” he said. “We are all facing similar challenges of economies that are sometimes stagnant, problems that need new solutions, and I think at the epicenter of all of this is innovation and entrepreneurship. In Israel we have over 6,400 start ups. The amount of money invested this year and last year in the Israeli start-up environment is roughly equivalent to that spent by the entirety of Western Europe combined.”

The education minister then recounted the recipe for what he believes is Israel’s secret sauce to innovation.

First and foremost, Bennett named the Jewish people’s 2,000-year history education in which “every child learned to read and write” and participated in chevruta study, a type of education that challenges educational norms of the teacher imparting knowledge to the students. This yeshiva-style learning uses debate for the sake of exploration and fosters a culture of questioning authority that is embedded in Israeli culture. This norm is also nurtured in the Israel Defense Forces, where army soldiers call their commanders by their first names, even using nicknames for their leaders, like Bibi (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) and Ruvi (President Rueven Rivlin). Through army service and youth movements that encourage leadership, young people assume extraordinary responsibility that, Bennett said, gives them a sense they can do anything, get things done, and never take “no” for an answer. Trying to govern a country in which the prominent question is “why” makes for hard governing, Bennett added.

But with these challenges comes growth and traits that make Israel a natural innovator in education and a lighthouse in a dark region. He compared Israel’s success and do-good attitude to the “storm” that is descending in the Middle East and expanding to the rest of the world.

“Surrounded by ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas and Al-Qaeda on our borders, our small-size but big-hearted country is a beacon of doing good,” Bennett said, concluding with a rundown of some of Israel’s accomplishments:

We do good by generating water in the deserts across Africa. We do good multiplying cucumber and tomato growth tenfold in India. We do good by saving millions of lives with our surgical stents. We do good by securing the 70 percent of internet banking transactions against cyber fraudsters. We do good by treating our Arab minority with dignity and respect. We do good by keeping our heads up in this very difficult region. We do good because that’s our mission, that’s our destiny. In Hebrew it’s called tikkun olam, repairing the world. We’ve been here, in the land of Israel, for the past 3,800 years doing good for the world, and we will continue.  My friends, in this room we have the world’s real security council – the education security council. The leaders in this room have the power to transform the world. To make people more tolerant, more mindful, more creative, and to provide a real opportunity for the children of the world.

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