This is the final part of a full-scale review of Israeli gifted education.
- Part One provided background on Israel and its education system before charting the development of Israeli gifted education up to 2006 or thereabouts.
- Part Two considered how Israeli gifted education has developed over the last five years and its condition today.
Part Three takes a closer look at some specific initiatives and institutions that play a prominent role in the Israeli national programme as it is now.
It begins by describing Amirim (which featured towards the end of Part Two), moving on to look at mostly university-led courses in maths and science.
It also reviews a handful of important services supporting disadvantaged gifted learners and a couple of unique Israeli programmes that are not strictly domestic gifted education, but are closely related to it.
There is a substantive section devoted to the activities of the Israel Center for Excellence in Education, including the Israel Arts and Science Academy, which falls under its control.
This is followed by an overview of other specialist schools and organisations and various providers of professional support.
Finally, I offer a personal assessment of the impact of the full panoply of Israeli provision.
Amirim is based on Renzulli’s Enrichment Triad Model. The programme covers primary, lower and upper secondary schools, exposing learners to content not found in the normal school curriculum.
The aims are to:
- Support excellence in schools, teachers and learners;
- Develop an ethos and culture that supports the achievement of excellence;
- Increase educators’ capacity to develop excellence in learners; and
- Develop activities that enable learners and educators to set and achieve targets for excellence.
Each district is advised how many schools can participate in the programme, but the schools are selected locally. Each school appoints a co-ordinator and teachers to participate. The teachers undertake a training programme.
The Amirim ICT project may be what is described by another source. If so, this is led by the Centre for Technology Education and Cultural Diversity (TEC). The Division for Gifted Students jointly funds the project with the Kibbutzim College of Education Technology and the Arts.
Around 100 learners from Grades 5 and 6 are involved, drawn from nine schools around the country, including Jews, Arabs and Druze. They communicate through a social network and work in multicultural teams. A face-to-face conference is held for all participants at the end of the project.
Programmes for Gifted Learners in Maths and Science
There are many different providers of programmes for students gifted in maths and science, several being accelerative programmes offered by universities.
Tel Aviv University
There is a brief English language description of the maths provision at Tel Aviv University dating from 2008, while the Hebrew web page is here.
A set of Acceleration Programmes in Mathematics (APM) began as early as 1970. Pupils aged 13-15 were selected for participation by their teachers. Many of the participants completed an undergraduate degree, some even a postgraduate degree, by the age of 18.
In 1987 the University began to offer a course for 12-17 year-olds called ‘Mathematics for Excellent Students’ with two parts, each taking four hours a week over a single semester. Students completing both parts were entitled to begin the first year undergraduate course at the University.
Tel Aviv University also hosts a Dov Lautman Unit for Science Oriented Youth established in the School of Education in 1981, which has an ambitious programme of activities relatively little of which is described in English. At least one receives support from the EU.
Bar Ilan University
It provides an enrichment course for learners in Grades 6 and 7:
‘intended for students who are interested in studying exciting, stimulating subjects in mathematics, most of which are not included in the regular study programme in schools; and also as preparation for the programme for youth gifted in mathematics.’
Participants attend the course for two hours a week in the afternoons, after school.
The gifted programme is for students in Grades 8-10 and has the following aims:
- Preparing students for the matriculation examination in maths at the end of the 10th grade.
- Integrating 11th and 12th grade students Bar-Ilan’s undergraduate maths courses.
- Enabling students to complete their degree within 3 years, ending one year after the 12th grade, requiring a year-long postponement of military service.
Participants attend a four-hour session weekly. The programme now runs at 20 different centres. Some 2,300 students were enrolled in 2006/07 (more recent data is not provided) and 60 teachers are involved.
Some 1,300 students completed the course as 10th grade students ‘in the last five years’. An online article describes the experience of one participant.
This programme seems to be slightly different to another Bar-Ilan project, also described online, which is called ‘A Fostering Programme of “Doctoral Students for Math”’.
This has as its objective the development of:
‘leadership in math among youth in development towns and suburbs who excel in their high school studies by accelerating them toward their university studies in the sciences and mathematics.’
Participants are selected in Grade 7 and during Grades 8-10 they undertake 30 three-hour sessions a year based in special centres:
‘The programme provides several routes:
(a) Matriculation examination at the end of the tenth grade and continuation of studies at Bar-Ilan University;
(b) admission to Bar-Ilan University to continue studying maths with the matriculation in mathematics determined by the marks received in the two core courses at the university — “Linear Algebra” and “Infinitismal Arithmetic”;
(c) admission to Bar-Ilan University to continue study in maths with the matriculation exam coming during the 11th or 12th grade or
(d) return to school to take the maths matriculation exam at the end of the 11th year and continuing studies at Bar-Ilan in the 12th year.
‘Infinitismal Arithmetic’ is a one-year course comprising four hours of lectures and two hours of ‘drill’ weekly.
In the period between Grades 11 and 12, students can take a special concentrated five week course for four hours a day ‘Introduction to Grouping Theory and Analysis’” This is equivalent to a full year of study. They may then:
‘complete the baccalaureate degree in mathematics as a primary subject (24 annual hours of lecturing and 10 hours of drilling), meeting all the requirements in two years and, in some instances, even less time.’
At Technion, the Israel Institute of Technolgy, in Haifa, the Mathematics Department hosts the Noam Outstanding Youth Center which offers:
- A Maths Summer Camp for 20 outstanding students in Grades 9-12, selected on the basis of school recommendations and interviews. Participants are divided into four groups and study number theory and encryption.
- A summer workshop on ‘Games, Luck and Probability’ for learners in Grades 6-8 at lower secondary schools.
- The ‘Grossman Math Olympics’, a competition for students in Grades 10-12 as well as those undertaking military service. There are cash prizes and tuition fee waivers for those who choose to take up a place at the Technion.
- A ‘Math Riddles Course’ which uses many questions posed in Maths Olympiads, open to adults with an interest as well as upper secondary and university students.
- ‘Math Circles’, a weekly after school enrichment class for lower and upper secondary students, run by Technion undergraduates and postgraduates.
- ‘From a High School to the Technion’, another programme allowing students in Grades 10-12 to study courses contributing to an undergraduate degree and to be admitted to the University on that basis.
Another international summer programme is run via World ORT which recently announced that it is launching a $35m ‘Anieres II World ORT Engineering/Technology Scholarship Programme for ten annual intakes of around 60 disadvantaged teenagers:
‘The students will enjoy a special residential programme for the final three years (four years in the case of those from overseas) at school, including extra-curricular studies at the internationally renowned Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and, if necessary, ulpan. Those who make the grade in final exams will study engineering at the Technion for four years with the added benefit that they will receive academic credits, which can be applied towards their degree, for all courses successfully completed in the high school component of the programme.’
I believe ‘ulpan’ is a Hebrew language-learning programme. The press release says $15m of the $35m cost has been supplied by a philanthropist and $18m by the Israeli Government. The remaining $2m is to be paid by students. It is not clear how disadvantaged learners will be able to find around $3,500 each.
The Ilan Ramon Youth Physics Center is based in the Physics Department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and provides opportunities for about 8,000 learners in the southern part of Israel.
Established in 2007, it is administered as part of the wider Madarom Programme a partnership between the Ministry of Education and the Rashi Foundation. One aim is to support and develop gifted learners. There is a strong emphasis on astronomy – the centre is named after Israel’s first astronaut.
One element is designed to foster scientific leadership in astronomy and physics. Each year some 150 upper secondary students receive leadership training and training in science education. They subsequently serve as guides and counsellors for other activities undertaken by the Center. They meet regularly as a cohort throughout the school year.
Once ex-participants have completed their military service they qualify for academic scholarships and act as tutors to the next cadre of participants in the programme.
This is not to be confused with the entirely separate Davidson Institute in the US, founded by Bob and Jan Davidson.)
Davidson provides a range of after-school courses in maths and science, some of them designated specifically for high achievers. Its ‘Science by Mail’ and ‘Math by Mail’ courses are available internationally and targeted at ‘talented and curious children in Grades 3-9’. Participants study four in-depth topics each year.
It also offers the annual Bessie Lawrence International Summer Science Institute (ISSI), a month-long programme for 70 highly-talented recent upper secondary school graduates, plus an annual safecracking tournament for teams of 17-18 year-olds who must build a safe that only they can open.
It is also possible to take courses with the Israeli Open University while still at upper secondary school. These are courses originally designed for undergraduates and, unusually, are not confined to maths and science.
In principle at least, students can enter courses in maths, science and engineering, but also in the humanities ( Jewish studies, history, literature, linguistics, music, art history, cinema, philosophy) and the social sciences (political science and international relations, sociology, communication, education, psychology, economics, management and accounting).
Courses are offered at one of three levels:
- Open level – general introductory courses which may require prior knowledge obtained in upper secondary school;
- Standard level – subject-specific courses which build on open courses and
- Advanced level – comparable with third-year undergraduate courses at other universities. Some require preparation of a paper during or after the course.
Upper secondary students may undertake Open University study in normal classes alongside adult students. Others may be part of dedicated study groups or study centres where numbers are sufficient to permit this.
The website says that, while hundreds of upper secondary students undertake Open University courses, only a handful have completed an undergraduate degree, while a ‘few dozen’ have managed the first half of an undergraduate degree.
Programmes Supporting Disadvantaged Gifted Populations
Ariela Foundation – Maof and Star
The Ariela Foundation supports learners from the Ethiopian minority, of which there are some 120,000 resident in Israel, targeting:
- The top 20% of lower and upper secondary school students from Tel Aviv,Jaffa, Gedera and Ness Tziona through the Star Programme and
- Learners who demonstrate high ability in one or more fields through the Maof Assistance Programme, a ‘nationwide initiative to promote excellence amongst outstanding youngsters through ongoing personal mentoring and long term tailor made assistance’.
Participants may join the programme in primary school and continue until university. The support provided to each participant varies but might include: financial aid, a scholarship, tutoring, coaching and mentoring, access to after-school enrichment and guidance and counselling. All participants undertake voluntary work.
College for All
Despite its name, College for All runs centres:
‘Throughout Israel’s economically distressed areas for children who possess potential for individual and academic excellence. College for All aspires to nurture and promote excellence in children and youth with social, family and economic circumstances that would otherwise hamper their potential for success.’
College for All was established in 1999 and now supports 25 centres throughout the country and over 1,500 learners. It employs 500 or 600 undergraduate students (the sources differ on the number) who teach learners once a week, receiving a scholarship or academic credit in return. Fifty qualified teachers are also involved.
The College website claims that Israel experiences the widest social gap between rich and poor amongst developed western countries. There are over 800,000 children and young people living below the poverty line, of which 100,000 (so 12.5%) have ‘unbounded potential for excellence’. This target group seems to comprise those identified as high achievers at primary schools.
Learners with high potential benefit from:
‘A top quality, socially-minded curriculum over the course of 10 years – from 3rd to 12th grade - thus assisting them in reaching their full potential, broadening their horizons, developing their academic capabilities and deepening their social conscience.’
Every learner has access to 16 hours a week of tuition in maths, English, IT and verbal skills as well as homework support. The website mentions:
‘Special classes in mathematical theories; English and language skills; science and nature; study skills; creative writing; environmental studies and literacy, as well as creative extracurricular programmes including: comics; art; photography; music; theatre and personal and group empowerment activities.’
Participants also benefit from social and cultural enrichment activities and are expected to serve as volunteers within their local communities. From lower secondary school onwards there is a personalised approach designed to help each learner ‘overcome their personal obstacles and difficulties’. Undergraduates act as mentors and role models.
The website claims as evidence of success the fact that its ‘first class of graduates achieved a 97 point average on their high school matriculation exams’. Nothing is said of subsequent cohorts.
Two Unique Programmes
Although strictly speaking outside the scope of this post, I want to devote some attention to two fascinating initiatives that are closely linked to the national gifted education programme.
Talpiot is the Israeli armed forces’ talent development programme, launched in 1979.
Israeli students completing high school are required to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, typically for two years (women) or three years (men). The IDF tests all students in Grades 11-12 to inform decisions about placement.
Those who score in the top 5% are invited to undertake a programme that combines basic military training, officer training and completion of a degree. Applicants are sifted and up to 200 attend a final selection process overseen by former graduates.
According to Wikipedia, Talpiot cadets undertake a science degree in either physics and maths or computer science at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. Academic study is interspersed with field training in different parts of the IDF. The total course takes three years and four months. Graduates are ranked first lieutenant and progress to specialist positions. They undertake six additional years of service.
The annual intake is said to be around 50 cadets, but this November 2011 report from IDF’s own website says that the current class of 40 graduates is the largest class in the programme’s history. A few women are successful.
An earlier Wall Street Journal story dating from 2007 describes the programme as ‘secretive’ – the journalist complains that officials would not describe the military elements of the programme – and its premiss is that Talpiot has ‘created an unforeseen by-product — a legion of entrepreneurs that has helped turn Israel into a technology juggernaut’.
Critics note that only a handful of participants have achieved senior rank in the IDF. Although in the early years, many remained in the armed forces or shifted to academic positions, that is no longer the case. One of the programme’s founders is quoted:
‘He doesn’t mind that graduates are getting wealthy, but says that if they aren’t working in the country, “Israeli money should not be invested in them.”’
But a Talpiot graduate poses the opposite argument:
‘Though most graduates aren’t involved in defending Israel, their role in the country’s economy is just as important to Israel’s survival. “What we are doing is generating new ideas and solutions,” he says. “That is very difficult to wipe out in a war.”’
NAALE Elite Academy
Another original programme is the NAALE Elite Academy, which supports Jewish young people from the diaspora to attend an Israeli upper secondary school.
Established in 1992, the programme has supported over 13,000 or over 20,000 participants since its inception (depending on the source).
It is funded by the Ministry of Education and the Jewish Agency for Israel – there is no charge for participants beyond the initial $500 registration fee. Students have all their living and Israeli travel expenses met, as well as the cost of flights to and from home at the beginning and end of the programme.
Participants attend Israeli upper secondary schools throughout Grades 10-12. Initial courses are taught in English, but teaching is conducted entirely in Hebrew by 11th Grade. Some 20 hours a week are dedicated to learning Hebrew in Grade 10.
Participants can be placed in either secular or religious schools – 26 schools participate in the scheme. They board at their schools but are allocated a bilingual host family who offer ‘home-away-from-home hospitality during Sabbath and school holidays, and a warm and caring environment’.
In order to qualify, applicants must demonstrate academic ability and emotional maturity. They undertake a series of selection tests – in English, Hebrew and maths – as well as a psychological test. This is followed by a series of interviews. However, 60% of applicants are accepted.
Up to 30% decide to return to their countries at the end of Grade 10, but nearly all who complete Grade 11 continue into Grade 12. Some 90% of these achieve the Bagrut (they receive special dispensation for recently acquired Hebrew language skills).
Once students have completed the course, they can decide to stay in Israel. Some 85% of those completing the programme stay and transfer to university or undertake military service. Of the 15% who return home, over half return to Israel within a year.
This recent news article features NAALE.
Israel Center for Excellence in Education
The Israel Center for Excellence in Education is a big player, providing a huge range of programmes and also the Arts and Science Academy.
Interestingly, one source describes the Center as ‘a staunch critic of the Education Ministry’, although it collaborates with it over the provision of many enrichment activities..
The Center describes its goal as:
‘To foster the concept of leadership, excellence and public responsibility throughout the entire educational community.
The Center for Excellence challenges bright and motivated students in every segment of Israel’s population.’
The website divides its work into five discrete areas:
- The Israel Arts and Science Academy (IASA) – which is described as its flagship programme and is outlined in the next section;
- National Programmes, which include Excellence 2000 (E2K) – already mentioned in Part Two.
- Professional Development
- Special Initiatives and
- International Activities
Within the suite of national programmes, five carry an Excellence 2000 imprimatur. The overview explains that the original programme was for lower secondary schools and was styled Mitchell Excellence 2000. Provision was extended to elementary schools via Skirball Excellence 2000 and subsequently to upper secondary schools via E2K High School. There are also E2K School-Wide and E2K City-Wide programmes.
Mitchell Excellence 2000 is the largest of these, described by the Center as:
‘The most comprehensive programme dealing with highly motivated and excelling students in the school system’.
From Grade 5 onwards, some 10,000 participating pupils in over 250 schools access enrichment classes focused on experimental sciences and mathematical thinking. They are taught by some 1,700 teachers who are trained through the Excellence Educators’ Institute (see below).
Skirball Excellence 2000 is designed for pupils in Grades 5-6 while the E2K High School is for Grades 10-11. Both were introduced in communities already served by the Mitchell Programme.
The School-Wide model is intended to: ‘enhance science skills and promote excellence throughout the entire grade level in selected schools’ so is not specifically a gifted programme. The City-Wide model is a community-wide extension of the whole school model. The website claims an extensive waiting list of cities waiting to join.
The website carries a 2006 evaluation by the Szold Institute which provides further insights into this family of initiatives.
It describes the overarching goals as:
‘(1) grooming excellence, encouraging creativity and educational leadership among students while providing equal opportunity to all segments of the population;
(2) grooming the student as a thinking, initiating and creating person;
(3) posing challenges to the students and encouraging depth and realisation of potential;
(4) providing the students with the tools for developing scientific and mathematical thought;
(5) enhancing student motivation to understand natural phenomenon [sic] through research and experiment;
(6) providing the students with professional tools and knowledge in the arts and encouraging and grooming self-expression;
(7) encouraging the student to strive for excellence and advance to higher academic levels;
(8) empowering teachers and assisting in changing teaching patterns so that research, experiment and teacher guided self-study are integrated; and
(9) strengthening the local school system as a result of strengthening and integrating the strive for excellence in students and teachers participating in the programme’.
There are four components: staff training, a learning programme focused on subjects not normally encountered in the school curriculum, supplementary enrichment activities and a residential summer camp at IASA for pupils completing Grade 8.
Excellence 2000 began in 1998, but originated in an earlier Discovery Programme which operated from 1988 in a smaller number of schools as a 3-year intervention for Grade 7-9 students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Discovery had four specific objectives
- ‘To create enriched environments in disadvantaged communities that will provide opportunities for the discovery and nurturing of talent potential that otherwise might not surface.
- To identify and nurture educationally students from disadvantaged communities who have potential for giftedness and leadership but have not had the cultural or educational advantages needed to develop their abilities.
- To make the striving for excellence a goal of local educational systems.
- To increase the pool of applicants for the Israel Arts and Science Academy.’
Participants were identified in the 7th Grade through teacher nomination, standardised test data, academic performance, or other relevant evidence. Students were taught in informal groups of 12-16, undertaking two 90 minute sessions each week, one on mathematical thinking skills and the other covering a scientific topic. Between five and seven special activities in music and art were also offered throughout the year and also two day-long field trips were also included. By the end of the programme in Grade 9, participants would compete for admission to the Academy on an equal basis to other candidates.
At the time of the evaluation in 2006, Mitchell Excellence 2000 was operational in 150 schools involving some 8,000 students. At this stage the Skirball model was being piloted in 20 primary schools and the High School model in 10 upper secondary schools.
Participating pupils were originally identified by their teachers using five criteria: high achievement, high learning potential and willingness to face new challenges, curiosity and creativity, determination and motivation and commitment to complete the programme. However, a screening test and interview process was subsequently introduced. Around 10% of learners were taken into the programme, taught in classes of 15-20.
Courses are focused on science and maths, with two hours a week typically allocated to each. Half of the four-hour weekly provision is during the school day and half outside it. Standard study units have been developed. Participating pupils may also tutor other children in their school. Each participating school must undertake three wider enrichment activities annually.
Each teacher must undertake 56 hours of compulsory training annually including a three-day summer programme at IASA and 4 one-day sessions. The evaluation refers to a new experiment in school-based training to be introduced in 2007.
Some central activities have also been developed including the Ilan Ramon Space Team Programme, a series of online challenges and a competition to design and build an invention.
The evaluation also refers to the extension of Excellence 2000 to immigrant learners, particularly those from Ethiopia and the Muslim states of the former Soviet Union. In 2006 there were 11 groups nationally, with a plan to start up 13 more in 2007.
The programme has also been extended to the USA, via the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy and 100 other American schools are involved.
Though rather dated, this 2001 article offers some further insight into the pupil experience of E2K.
Other national programmes listed on the website reference some of these additional central initiatives:
- The Space Team Programme – an additional session of two hours a week covering astronomy and astrophysics with support from the Asher Institute for Space Research at the Technion.
- The Science Adventures Programme – a combination of field trips and school-based activities built around a theme. About 45 different themes have been developed and are offered annually.
- Young Detectives Club – enabling participants to work on real-life cases in Israeli Police forensic science laboratories and study electronic data protection in collaboration with Microsoft Israel.
- Gildor Family Projects and Inventions – participants address a real-life problem. The 2012/13 challenge is ‘Developing and constructing a ‘smart’ system for the prevention of train and motor vehicle collisions’. They compete to produce inventions that assess creativity, design, effort and functionality. An annual report on the competition is published.
- Summer Camps – week-long events blending small group sessions and workshop activities for pupils in Grades 7-8. An annual report is again produced, but the most recent dates from 2010.
- Opportunity for Excellence – which may be the evolution of the support for immigrant students mentioned above. It supports Ethiopian, Kavkaz and Bucharian pupils in lower secondary schools.
- The Science Maze – an interactive puzzle-based experience for children of all ages and adults.
The website says the Excellence Educators’ Institute has developed:
‘47 different training tracks spanning elementary through high school levels in the areas of experimental science, mathematical thinking, technology, leadership skills and more’.
The Institute offers national and regional workshops designed for new or experienced teachers, for those engaged in pilot programmes and those in international programmes.
National workshops are of 3-5 days’ duration and based at IASA. All workshops are accredited by the Ministry of Education. The most recent annual report outlines provision in 2011. Some 2,000 participants are recorded, but many are multiple registrations so the number of individuals involved will be far lower.
The Center also runs an Education Advisers Course in collaboration with the Davidson Institute and the Ministry of Education. The purpose is to secure a cadre of ‘School Excellence Advisors’ enabled to:
- ‘Lead the school team, particularly science teachers, in all excellence related issues, by creating and leading projects for the school’s outstanding and general student population.
- Serve as an advisor to outstanding students.
- Serve as a focal point for classroom teachers seeking guidance and enrichment in dealing with this special group of students.’
The 2006 Szold Institute evaluation once more provides further detail. Schools nominate a member of staff to undertake this role who then undertakes a two-year (168 hour) course.
The content includes: subject expertise and leadership skills but also:
‘development of regional excellence leadership teams, teaching and guiding excelling students, development of teacher excellence guidance skills, new models for running project in the school and tools for handling difficulties and obstacles.’
Curiously, subject expertise can only be in science – biology, chemistry or physics. This provision was introduced in 2005.
There is an ‘Annual Carylon Conference’ which:
‘brings together educators,members of academia, and world renowned specialists from Israel and abroad who share particular expertise in the field of education for highly able students.’
But the link takes one to a page headed ‘The Raphi Amram Center for Creative Excellence (RACCE):
‘One of the stated objectives of RACCE is to provide expertise in dealing with highly able, talented teenagers through special symposia and teacher training institutes. To serve that goal, the Center for Excellence, in conjunction with the Ministry of Education’s Department of Gifted Students, has hosted conferences for more than a decade. Each conference since 1998 has included the Raphi Amram Memorial Lecture.’
And there is also another page referencing the Herzliya Conference on Israel’s National Strength, I think because it features a presentation to the 2008 Conference on Excellence as a National Value and to the 2007 Conference on Enhancing Excellence in Education (in Word).
A newspaper article provides further detail of the relevance of gifted education – and E2K specifically – to the 2007 Herzliya Conference. I can find no reference to any significant initiative emerging from the Conference, however.
This section also carries brief details of the Center’s online provision:
‘Virtual learning classes are broadcast live to all participating schools using basic internet infrastructures displayed on an overhead projector…Teachers in the Virtual Learning Programme go through intensive training presented by the Excellence Educators Institute. Within the framework of this training they gain on-line experience in orchestrating an on-screen classroom environment.’
Despite the reference to Virtual learning, it seems that this provision is deliberately low-tech.
This section of the Center’s portfolio includes:
- The Illinois E2K programme, based at the Illinois Maths and Science Academy and operating in some 60 Illinois schools (where it has been renamed IMSA Fusion);
- The introduction of E2K into five Iowa districts via the Belin-Blank Center;
- E2K in 70 Jewish Day Schools in nine US states, operated by the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education;
- E2K in 100 Singapore primary schools, overseen by the Ministry of Education; and
- E2K provision in Chennai India via HeyMath!
Some 45 E2K study units have been translated into English, while a training course has been developed for bodies undertaking a co-ordination role abroad and for trainers of local maths and science teachers who will run the programmes.
The ‘E2K International Learning Community’ encompasses online forums and the online learning outlined above. There is also an ‘international riddle of the month’.
The Israel Arts and Science Academy (IASA)
IASA accommodates some 200 students drawn from across Israel and claims to draw on all its communities, regardless of ethnic and religious background. The school first opened in 1990, located on a campus in Southern Jerusalem.
There is very little about the actual operation of the School on the Center’s own website, which concentrates on external activities. These include an Exploration Camp, enabling 100 Grade 8 students to experience IASA for nine days over the summer break. This Report on the 2011 Camp gives a sense of the programme.
There is a section about the Gildor Project Week, described as the highlight of IASA’s academic year, in which students undertake their own research projects. A Community Service Programme is also mentioned which takes place every Tuesday afternoon throughout the academic year.
The Academy has over 1,000 alumni. It runs a programme enabling immediate graduates to undertake a year of voluntary public service, taken up by almost 40% of those graduating.
A lengthy paper on ‘Learning Dilemmas of Curriculum Development at IASA and its Influence on Students’ Concepts of Learning’ appears in Volume 22(1) of Gifted and Talented International (June 2007) but, despite being co-authored by an ex-headteacher, provides relatively little tangible detail about the operation of the Academy. Even Wikipedia is little help.
Another source is more useful. It defines IASA’s objectives as:
- ‘To create a unique educational environment for the nurture of exceptional talent potential in science, mathematics, music and the graphic arts.
- To nourish cognitive, affective, social and creative excellence.
- To learn about curriculum, teaching, creating a learning environment and other elements of nurturing excellence.’
The Academy aims to offer four elements of learning:
‘1. First-class education in specific fields of talent. This element aims at nurturing students to become extraordinary performers and/or producers of ideas in their chosen field of specialisation.
2. General core studies and interdisciplinary studies. This element aims at broadening the cultural perspectives of students and enhancing mutual sensitivity and appreciation between science students and art students by providing ample opportunities for cross-fertilisation across these disciplines.
3. Opportunities to serve the community. This element pertains to the relationships between the students, the school and the community. It is designed to enhance a sense of responsibility and commitment to the community. In addition, the community provides a laboratory and resources for out-of-school enrichment.
4. Nurturing of values. This element emphasizes a general humanistic orientation and commitment to Israel and to the Jewish people’.
The Academy has a Curriculum Development Unit which has produced its own customised curriculum, taking full advantage of the flexibilities permitted by the Ministry of Education, and also specialises in software and multimedia learning units.
The interdisciplinary focus is important:
‘The Academy does not provide watered-down science courses for its arts students or low-level “appreciation courses” for science students. Rather, its curricular efforts focus on providing opportunities for high-level interdisciplinary experiences that bring out the basic, integral relationships of science and arts in non-contrived ways. In addition, the Humanities curriculum provides opportunities for intensive study and discussion of important moral, ethical and aesthetic issues.’
The staff includes full-time teachers in the core subject disciplines, part-time teachers who are specialists in their fields and counsellors who oversee the residential activities.
All students live in the Academy, even if their homes are in Jerusalem. The pupil population is said to be entirely representative by socio-economic background as well as ethnic/religious background.
The Center for Excellence through Education carries a survey of alumni undertaken in 2007 which, though it provides much interesting data, fails to confirm this statement.
A second source is a 2011 article in the Jerusalem Post penned by a history professor at McGill University whose daughter attended the Academy. He describes IASA as an ‘oasis of excellence’ within a desert of mediocrity:
‘Tragically, an Israeli epidemic of mediocre teachers, undisciplined students, unsupportive parents, unyielding bureaucrats and unchallenging curricula is spawning many dysfunctional classrooms and failing schools. Although we also see fabulous teachers, stimulating classrooms and well-run schools, the educational mediocrity my children have experienced has been our greatest disappointment in Israel. Shrieking teachers, wild classrooms and pointless tests demoralise students.’
In his view it is ‘a magical mix of Zionist summer camp and Harvard’. He confirms that fees are subsidised for those from relatively poor backgrounds and quotes the Chairman of the Board:
“This commitment to excellence in all dimensions is an expression of our Zionism…When we founded the school twenty years ago, excellence was a dirty word in Israel, considered elitist. Today, Israelis – and people around the world – look to us, and to Israel in general, as a centre of excellence.”
Some other Key Institutions
Young Person’s Institute for the Promotion of Creativity and Excellence
YPIPCE (link is to a website entirely in Hebrew) was founded by Erika Landau and is based at Tel-Aviv University. Her approach emphasises motivation and creativity, which have not featured strongly in the Israeli process of identifying gifted learners until recently.
Landau’s website says her Institute was founded:
‘as a nonprofit association, about thirty years ago to help talented and gifted children to cope with their problems within a society that could not accept those who could not “conform”: those children who asked more questions, who got easily bored because they caught things easily and quickly’
Another source describes its role as:
‘To provide educational enrichment opportunities that augment the regular school programme. The aim is to provide a framework within which the child learns to enjoy the personal search for knowledge.’
The Institute provides a range of workshops – up to 100 per semester – in science, social science, arts and humanities. The sessions take place after school. About 800 learners are involved each semester. The Institute’s site also says that enrichment classes are offered in 80 subjects for children aged 5-15. Most teachers are lecturers, either at Tel Aviv University or the Academy of Art.
It also works with a cohort of between 350 and 500 Tel-Aviv children from culturally deprived backgrounds who attend workshops on creative, scientific and social thinking.
Over 35,000 learners have participated in Institute programmes (the Institute’s own site increases this to nearly 40,000 and says the institute was founded 43 years ago, so in 1969). Some 40% of teachers are former students. The annual budget is about US $400,000.
During the summer, the Institute offers a Creative Activity Month, involving visits, discussions, symposia and so on. The Institute also offers summer in-service training on the nature of giftedness and creativity and identification processes, as well as one-off lectures and seminars. Parental workshops are also provided.
Jerusalem Academy High School for Music and Dance
The Academy High School of Music and Dance is based on the Hebrew University campus in Jerusalem. Founded in the 1960s, it provides lower and upper secondary education through a curriculum which combines the standard curriculum and specialisation in either music or dance.
Students are taken from all over the country and there is residential provision for those living outside Jerusalem. There is a special course for the most outstanding learners which enables them to progress to the neighbouring undergraduate Academy in the final year of upper secondary school.
Within the dance programme, students learn about the history of dance, dance music and anatomy. In the neighbouring Conservatory they practise classical ballet, modern and jazz dance and improvisation. Upper secondary students specialise in either classical ballet or modern dance. All pupils undertake at least two performances on the professional stage annually.
The Department also provides two performances for other Jerusalem schools. Each class holds an open session annually for parents, friends and teachers.
Within the music programme, students pursue musical history, theory and analysis. The majority study an instrument or singing at the neighbouring Conservatory.
The Conservatory provides professional training in music and dance for 4-19 year-olds (so has many younger pupils who do not attend the High School). All together there are 700 enrolled.
It hosts a specialist centre for piano performance which runs the Young Piano Master Project (YPMP), designed to develop excellence in young pianists. Participants meet together fortnightly for three hours from 4.30-7,30pm for lectures, masterclasses and workshops.
Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts
This High School was founded in 1959. Named after a cellist who emigrated from England in the 1920s, it too draws students from throughout Israel to its campus in Givatayim, a small city east of Tel Aviv. Up to 15% annually are from immigrant populations, while others are from disadvantaged backgrounds or disabled. Students are selected on the basis of audition and interview.
They specialise in one of six areas: classical music, jazz, classical ballet and modern dance, drama, visual arts and film. The school has its own full symphony orchestra and big band, as
well as a range of smaller ensembles and troupes.
The website mentions:
‘plans to expand our academic and artistic programmes to include specially gifted students from other sectors of Israeli society: ultra-orthodox, Arabs and Druze.’
But these are dependent on securing the necessary funding. It is clear that the buildings have some shortcomings and the school is heavily reliant on donations for its survival.
The Wingate Institute is located south of the city of Netanya. It is the country’s national centre for physical education and sport and was founded in 1957.
It incorporates a training school for coaches and instructors, a centre for research, sports medicine and physiotherapy, a pedagogical centre, an elite sports unit and a Centre for the Development of Sport Giftedness.
The latter was established in 1991 and trains elite young athletes in judo, swimming, volleyball and tennis.
A document dating from 2007 adds table tennis to this list and gives the number of students as 90. Meanwhile, the Hebrew version of the website gives the number as 100 aged 12-18, adding basketball, triathlon and table tennis to the list of sports, making seven in all.
It is not clear from the English language pages whether these students also undertake their schooling at the Centre, but the Hebrew version suggests that, while students are resident at the Centre, they attend a nearby school. Students undertake about five hours of sports training daily. Part of the cost is borne by the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport.
Havruta High School for Leadership and Culture
Havruta High School was founded by the Israel Center for Youth Leadership ICYL). The Center describes the High School as its cornerstone. It is a private day school, located east of Netanya, which opened in 2009. Its capacity is 600.
The School’s mission is:
To nurture leadership characterised by an outward growing sense of responsibility: responsibility for our own choices and actions, responsibility to our family, to the society in which we live, to our nation and to the world.’
An article dating from 2009 in the Jerusalem Post describes the project in development. Teachers were hired a year before the school opened so all could receive preparatory training. All have Masters degrees or Doctorates. Howard Gardner is a member of the School’s advisory board.
The School’s location is:
‘at the outskirts of Neveh Hadassah. A “youth village” housing upward of 300 children, Neveh Hadassah caters to children at risk, kids from broken homes, children who come to Israel as unaccompanied minors, along with various special-needs cases. Havruta officials hope that their students might begin honing their leadership skills by reaching out to the Neveh Hadassah children.’
It operates a needs-blind admissions process: one-third of the students admitted in the first year received scholarships averaging 75% of fees.
The 2009 article suggests fees will be around NIS 2,900 per month (£466) – a high level compared with other Israeli private schools. One of the school’s goals is that 50% of the intake will receive scholarships.
(However, the Hebrew pages of the website suggest the fee may have been reduced to NIS 2,330 a month exclusive of travel and meals; also that currently some 40% of the intake receive scholarships.)
The admissions process is described thus in the 2009 article:
‘Prospective students will complete and submit an application form. If their applications are successful, they will then be called in for the first of a series of interviews with school staff. If those go well, recommendations will follow. To round out this assessment – more qualitative than quantitative – grades and test scores will also be considered, but as the smallest piece of the overall puzzle.’
The curriculum follows national requirements but emphasises the development of thinking, learning and social skills. The School offers an ‘early college programme in the liberal arts, in association with Bard College’ in New York State, USA. This enables students to achieve an Associate in Arts degree.
It operates the Harkness Method and provides a four-year Social Engagement Programme. One day each week is dedicated to Israeli society. The students undertake fortnightly visits with alternate weeks used for planning and review. There is a four-year thematic cycle:
‘During the first year students become familiar at first hand with Israeli society, through a series of visits, involving encounters and dialogue with young members of the many Jewish and non-Jewish religious, cultural and ethnic groups in the country…. The second year is devoted to learning about institutions and centres of power that that affect us all; political and judicial institutions, the business community, mass media, local government and the non-profit sector…During the third year students follow in the footsteps of our rebirth as a sovereign nation – from the holocaust, through the pioneers and founding fathers of Israel, to the crucible events of our contemporary history. Through moving encounters with prominent figures and places of our recent history, students will be challenged to think about their own generation’s role in ensuring the continuity of our people. The final year of study, in similar experiential fashion, will focus on bridging differences and conflicts within Israeli society and in Israel’s relations with the Diaspora.’
Several other institutions are mentioned online but it is not always clear whether they still exist. Others provide relatively little information about their operations or offer it exclusively in Hebrew.
A recent news story covered the establishment of a new school for the gifted in Beer Sheva – the Saryl and Stephen Gross Maof School for Excellence.
The story says that the school will enrol 500 learners from Beer Sheva and the Negev, but will have the potential to double in size. The building cost NIS 8m and was:
‘initiated by Federation CJA Montreal, the Beer Sheva municipality, the Ministry of Education and the Rashi Foundation who managed the project. Saryl and Stephen Gross from Montreal provided more than half of the funding for the project’.
It becomes clear that this is not actually a school but an enrichment centre for children in Grades 3-10 drawn from 65 schools in the area.
Gordon College of Education in Haifa has already been mentioned for its long-standing role in teachers’ professional development.
It operates a Center for the Promotion of Giftedness and Excellence, providing training for teachers and a weekly enrichment programme serving over 450 learners in Grades 4-6. It also holds an annual conference on Giftedness and Excellence, though I have been unable to source any record of proceedings.
The RANGE Center
The RANGE Center – The Interdisciplinary Center for Research and Advancement of Giftedness and Excellence – is based in the Education Department at the University of Haifa. There are three staff: a Head of Center – Roza Leikin – plus an Academic and an Administrative Director.
RANGE comprises a research and a research implementation section. The former investigates giftedness and its cultivation. The only study mentioned is focused on ‘general cognitive abilities, neurocognitive activity and creativity related to exceptional mathematical ability’.
The implementation section is a collaborative venture with Haifa municipality, providing out-of-school programmes for learners in Grades 8-9, who undertake upper secondary courses in maths, science, art and neuroscience. The Hebrew website lists five current courses and a further 17 to be offered in the future.
The website mentions that the Education Department offers a Masters programme in the Education of the Gifted and Talented which includes courses in gifted education research, personal and affective characteristics, creativity and giftedness, social justice and giftedness, teaching the gifted and curricula for gifted students.
The course seems to exist (though the link is broken) but it is not clear from the English translation whether it remains a separate MA, or simply an option in part of a wider MA in Counselling and Human Development.
The RANGE website also mentions that, subject to funding, its future plans include personalised e-learning enrichment courses and a programme supporting students in Grades 11-12 to undertake their own research projects. The Center also plans a series of lectures for teachers and parents.
Gifted Expertise Center
The Gifted Expertise Center is a consultancy run by Hava Vidergor, a lecturer on the Certification Programme for Teachers of Gifted Students at Oranim College and a teacher at the Oranim Gifted Education Center.
The Center offers access to a team of international experts – Renzulli, Reiss, Sisk, Yamin, McCluskey etc – who offer support in designing gifted programmes, programme implementation and evaluation, professional development, tailored solutions for individual learners and the use of Renzulli Learning Systems. The website carries the ICIE logo, so is presumably an offshoot of that operation.
The professional development offer consists of seven 4 and 8 hour workshops to develop teaching strategies and five curriculum models workshops covering Schoolwide Enrichment, Integrated Curriculum, Parallel Curriculum and Vidergor’s own ‘Multidimensional Curriculum Model’.. These can be combined to provide a complete 60-hour programme.
The website advertises the imminent publication of a book ‘The Practical Handbook for Teaching Gifted and Able Learners’, edited by Vidergor, Harris and Yamin and again carrying the ICIE imprimatur.
The Henrietta Szold Institute has already featured in this post by virtue of its involvement in the testing of gifted learners.
Its website also mentions two specific research programmes:
Eureka – the Cross Cultural Model for Enrichment and Talent Nurturance is designed to expose submerged talent in science, technology and the visual arts. Participants are selected from ‘a marginal cultural / socio-economic background’ and supported throughout primary education. There are two stages, called exposure and immersion.
All children in Grades 1 and 2 are:
‘Exposed to a supportive learning environment that provides them with hands-on experiences in science and art. Teachers receive in-service training on how to use the enriched science and art curricula in an experiential manner and on how to evaluate student behaviour and work’.
From Grade 3 onwards, the subset who have been identified as gifted ‘explore in depth their talent area in special programmes’, while the remainder continue as before. At the end of each school year, those whose performance and motivation improves sufficiently join the gifted programme until the end of primary school.
An in-depth review of Eureka (which is rather old, dating from 1997) is available here.
The Ministry of Education’s Mentoring Programme, which is undertaken by the Institute on its behalf and was referenced earlier in this post.
‘During this experience, students are exposed to cutting-edge knowledge and skills, develop new capacities and acquire tools for coping with challenges posed by their field of studies. This experience is intended to assist the students in consolidating a professional identity in preparation for choosing a future career. The programme’s goals are:
(1) To fulfil highly gifted student potential in the areas of their interest.
(2) To familiarise students with the complexity of work carried out by professionals who are at the forefront of their fields.
(3) To foster an ethical and social awareness and responsibility in accordance with values of Jewish philosophy and tradition.
The programme’s implementation is monitored by a formative and summative evaluation, which concentrates on…progress and outcomes, as well as…talented students’ identity formation.’
What is the Impact?
I have not unearthed a completely reliable estimate of the total cost of this enormous spectrum of activity, or even the proportion shouldered by the Israeli taxpayer. One 2010 OECD publication gives a figure of NIS 8.25m per year (about £1.3m) but this must be a significant under-estimate, unless it is the budget of the Ministry’s gifted education department.
The translated spreadsheets on this page appear to suggest that the Ministry alone commits some NIS 19.7m of its NIS 36bn budget to gifted education (there are two separate budget lines – one translates as ‘gifted children’ (NIS 13.641m); the other as ‘gifted youth’ (NIS 6.047m). If these figures are correct, then government expenditure alone is closer to £3.1m.
Since the Ministry’s website says that its programmes are benefiting 45,287 learners (12,895 gifted and 32,392 outstanding) this implies expenditure of roughly NIS 435 (£69) per learner.
Whether or not these figures are accurate, there is no doubt that Israel is thoroughly committed to investment in its human capital and – some might argue – actually concentrates disproportionately on its gifted learners.
Such investment should be generating a significant return, especially since it is so heavily focused on the STEM sector. Indeed, it is hard to escape the conclusion that STEM is over-dominant in Israeli gifted education, and that there is a clear ‘pecking order’ which favours those with mathematical and scientific ability over those with different talents to offer. This may be beginning to change, but is so thoroughly embedded that it will take some time to secure a more balanced offer.
Rather worryingly though, Israel’s performance in PISA 2009 would suggest that the impact of this enormous investment on student achievement has been fairly marginal at best.
The overall scores left much to be desired:
- Israel’s mean score in the reading test was 474, 19 below the OECD average, making it 36th of 64 countries
- In maths it scored 447, 49 points below the OECD average of 496 and 41st in rank order of countries
- In science it managed 455, 46 below the OECD average of 501, again finishing 41st in rank order.
One might expect the performance of high achievers to be significantly better, but this analysis from the Taub Center (p333) shows the average level of achievement across both the top 5% and the bottom 5% across all three tests in 25 OECD countries.
Israel comes last of all for the bottom 5%, but also no better than second last for the top 5%:
It is not as if this is a recent dip – a temporary aberration. Another Taub Center publication illustrates graphically that there is a longstanding issue, supported as much by TIMSS daya as by PISA.
And if we look at achievement on the separate PISA 2009 tests at the higher levels, it is clear that there is relatively little difference between those and the mean scores.
- In reading, 6.4% of Israelis achieved level 5 and 1.0% achieved level 6. The OECD averages were 6.8% and 0.8% respectively. This places Israel 18th of 34 OECD countries at Level 5 and 10th equal of 34 at Level 6 (the latter is equal with the UK). So far, so good, but
- In maths, 4.7% achieved level 5 and 1.2% achieved level 6. The OECD averages were 9.6% and 3.1% respectively. This places Israel 31st of 34 at Level 5 and 30th of 34 at level 6.
- In science, 3.5% achieved level 5 and 0.5% achieved level 6. The OECD averages were 7.4% and 1.1% respectively. This places Israel 30th of 34 at level 5 and 25th of 34 at Level 6.
Ironically, given Israel’s disproportionate focus on maths and science gifted education, the best results comparatively speaking are in reading! This may serve to reinforce the existing imbalance in favour of STEM provision.
Although Level 6 rankings tend to be higher than those at Level 5, suggesting that the very top performers do slightly better comparatively speaking, the differences are small – and Israel is comfortably outpaced by the likes of Austria, Belgium, Chile, Estonia, Iceland and Slovakia.
While some of this disappointing performance can be attributed to the sizeable difference between the achievement of Israeli students from relatively advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds – and the underperformance of Arab students compared with Israeli students – it is inescapable that the overall figures are not a ringing endorsement of Israel’s gifted education.
This is of course only a single indicator with its own significant shortcomings – and one can point to alternative measures, such as Nobel Prizes per capita or the Global Innovation Index which show that Israel punches well above its weight when it comes to adult achievement.
Nevertheless, the PISA results are so poor that there is an extremely strong case for an urgent root-and-branch examination of Israel’s support for gifted and talented learners – as part of its wider commitment to educational excellence.
I would expect that loud alarm bells are already ringing but, if the PISA 2012 results show negligible improvement, the clamour will surely become impossible to ignore.