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Using STEAM education: closing social divides

Israel, for all its success, has two problems: It is slowly creating a society where only a select few can soar to their greatest heights and truly achieve the best the Start-Up Nation has to offer; and it is also experiencing a shortage of skilled employees who are very much needed to sustain the hi-tech dream that is economically sustaining the country.

The Jewish state, then, is experiencing an ironic state of affairs: While still grappling with rising inflation costs and attempts to recover from the post-COVID slump, the start-up scene is one of the few sectors where its resources seem virtually unlimited.

Seven hundred and eighty Israeli start-ups raised a record $26 billion in 2022, and workers are reaping the benefits. So much so that the Central Bureau of Statistics reports the average monthly salary in tech is nearly NIS 26,000 (approximately $7,750) – reaching an 8% increase since last year.

But for most Israelis that salary is unattainable; the average salary is NIS 11,000, a 2.6% decrease from last year.

These soaring hi-tech salaries are a result of a supply and demand issue where the Israeli market is experiencing an acute shortage of skilled workers. In fact, 21,000 tech jobs remained vacant at the end of 2021, up from 13,000-14,000 in previous years.

The next generation has taken note of this shifting job market and is increasingly enrolling in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) disciplines over humanities. The Israeli Council for Higher Education reports that the number of students choosing to study math, statistics and computer science has doubled in the past decade.

So for those who are interested in being part of the “haves” of Israeli society, education – specifically STEAM-based education – is more valuable than ever.

At World ORT we are anticipating those needs as outlined above and are attempting to tackle these issues head on by teaching the values of science-oriented education coupled with inclusive Jewish values so our graduates can confidently dive into the Start-Up Nation pool.

With schools and extracurricular programs offered across Israel, Kadima Mada (World ORT in Israel) is teaching children at a young age – even kindergarten – that technology can open a myriad of doors, widen their horizons and break the cycle of poverty.

Take Ron, a student at World ORT’s Kfar Silver Youth Village in Ashkelon. Ron enrolled in the school’s Mofet excellence program, which targets students who have the potential to do very well in their matriculation exams. He is thriving at Kfar Silver, not only academically but physically as well. By taking advantage of the school’s stellar physical education initiatives, he aims to marry his drive for success and passion for fitness into a role in an elite combat unit upon graduation – which can lead to many opportunities in the hi-tech world.

Aviv Avshalom, a 9th-grader at the Rodman School in Kiryat Yam, is a student who was introduced to a new world once he studied at the school’s D. Dan & Betty Khan STEAM Center, where he understood that education is far more than English and math.

Aviv went from not knowing what STEAM stood for to building robots and feeling at home at the school’s maker lab, using laser cutters to produce his own creations.

Those two success stories may seem like a drop in the ocean, but World ORT Kadima Mada has a proven track-record of success: Back in 2016 – when World ORT took ownership of Kfar Silver, only 53% of pupils at Kfar Silver took their matriculation exam. Now, that figure has skyrocketed to 97%, far beyond the national average. World ORT is able to point these children in the right direction and, in doing so, hopes to launch a generation who are willing and able to meet the demands of Israel’s challenging hi-tech sector.

This is a global vision World ORT has brought to the whole world with nearly 15,000 students involved in extracurricular STEM activities and 5,200 of them participating in Tikkun Olam-oriented projects. That winning combination of delving head-first into technology but also wanting to be part of something bigger than themselves has been a proven formula for success toward enrolling in higher education after they complete their time with us. In Israel, in particular, 100% of them enlist in the IDF, which is a key path to success to those wishing to improve their socioeconomic status in Israel.

At World ORT, students learn to be something bigger than themselves. Little do they know they may be the very solution to Israel’s economic troubles; when everyone is part of the country’s success it makes us all stronger and better prepared to meet the challenges that come our way.

Dan Green