‘Skills Panic’ Prompts New Israeli Government Effort in Math Education

August 30, 2015

Source: The Times of Israel


In response to a sharp falloff in the number of students who “major” in mathematics in high school, Israel Minister of Education, Naftali Bennett, announced this week a new program that will significantly increase funding for math education; double the number of math teachers in schools; draft hundreds of high-tech workers to help teachers and students teach and learn math; — and incentivize students by providing photo-ops with former president Shimon Peres, who, despite his 91 years, feels strong enough about the project to come out of retirement and help out.


“The dearth of math skills among Israeli students isn’t an educational crisis — it’s a strategic threat. And the response to a strategic threat must be a national plan,” said Bennett at a press conference announcing the project. “No longer will location or lack of resources prevent students from taking a full load of mathematics courses. Our program will enable all students to excel in math, providing both them and the State of Israel with a strong future.”


Math, of course, is the basis of many high-tech skills — it provides the basic building blocks for understanding programming, engineering, algorithm development, and other essential skills. Much of Israel’s tech prowess is the result of strong math and science education provided in the country’s colleges and universities — in courses that are populated by students who acquired strong math skills in high school.


But just a glance at the official statistics on math education offers a pessimistic view of the future of math education; since 1996, the number of kids who have taken on the full math course load (known as “five units” in Israeli high school jargon) has sunk, from 12,900 in 2006 to 9,100 in 2013.

Now the days when math was an also-ran among high school kids are over, if Bennett has anything to say about it. Under the plan, the number of math teachers in high schools will be doubled — from the current 1,000 — and schools will add some 15,000 “enrichment hours” outside of class time in order to provide tutoring services, math clubs, activities and contests, etc. In addition, the full math curriculum will now be available in all schools in the country; in the past, there were many (especially in lower-socioeconomic areas) where the program was not available, due to an ostensible “lack of interest” among students.

To pay for all this, the Education Ministry has allocated NIS 75 million ($20 million). The objective, said Bennett, is to double the number of five-unit math students, to 18,000, within four years.

Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the program, however, is Bennett’s plan to recruit some 500 high-tech industry leaders to help out in developing the curriculum; train teachers in how to teach math from a high-tech point of view; and reach out to students, persuading them to go for the “full five” unit program. Working with the ministry on the project will be companies such as Intel, Marvell, Microsoft and others, with volunteers providing hours to help out in their local communities.

Read the entire article in The Times of Israel.

Updated: Sep. 16, 2015