Gifted Education in Israel: Part One

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This post is a full and detailed review of Israeli gifted education.

It is divided into three parts:

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  • Part One provides essential background on Israel and its education system before tracing the historical development of Israeli gifted education;
  • Part Two examines more recent developments (over the last five years) and analyses the current state of Israeli gifted education;
  • Part Three reviews key programmes, initiatives and institutions which contribute to Israel’s considerable national effort in this field. It also offers a brief assessment of overall impact

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Introduction

Desirous of an update on Israeli gifted education, I attended a session at the 2012 ECHA Conference featuring Shlomit Rachmel Director of the Division for Gifted and Outstanding Students at the Israeli Ministry of Education.

Unfortunately the Programme erroneously calls her Rachmel Shlomit but, even more unfortunately for me, she failed to put in an appearance. We were told she had ‘gone home’.

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Perhaps she was in high dudgeon, mortally offended by the slip in the programme but, more likely, she had more pressing matters to address. We were never told.

So my curiosity was piqued but not fulfilled. This led me to trawl through the huge amount of information available free of charge online – even to struggle with the vagaries of online Hebrew-English translation – with a view to publishing this primer.

If you spot any factual errors in my treatment, please don’t hesitate to use the comments facility to set the record straight. Given the vast number of sources utilised in this post, it would be surprising indeed if one or two facts had not gone astray. For the most part, however, I believe this is an accurate and reliable record.

(Commentators may want to give me the benefit of the doubt over the next section however, since I’m aware that this is disputed territory – pun very much intended – and even the most careful choice of language inevitably favours one party over another. I have tried to interpret the facts as objectively as possible.)

Incidentally, I have anglicised the American spelling in the quotations that appear throughout this post.

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Israel

Israel became an independent country in 1948.

It is situated on the south-eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, surrounded by Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Israel currently occupies the bulk of the Golan Heights and the West Bank including East Jerusalem. (Responsibility for governance in the West Bank is divided, while the relationship with Gaza is both complex and disputed: the two together are referred to as the Palestinian Territories.)

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Israel gives its population as 7,993,200 at September 2012. Of these, 75.4% are Jewish, 20.6% are Arab and the remainder – some 318,000 – includes several small minorities including Ethiopians, Armenians, Assyrians and Circassians.

The national land area is variably defined, depending on the inclusion or otherwise of the occupied territories. Including the West Bank and Golan Heights, the total area is 2,799,000 km2. There are seven main administrative districts divided into 15 sub-districts (two of which are Golan and the West Bank).

Jerusalem is the largest city, with a population of 778,000 (but this includes East Jerusalem). Other large cities are Tel Aviv (393,900) and Haifa (265,600).

Israel is a Parliamentary democracy. A single chamber legislative body, the Knesset, has 120 elected members. The Prime Minister is the head of government and the President is head of state. In 2011, Israel was the world’s 40th largest economy, with the world’s 26th highest per capita GDP of $30,975.

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The Israeli Education System

There is surprisingly little information available in English online about the Israeli school system. The brief commentary that follows is gleaned from about six main sources.

Israel defines three tiers within its school system:

  • Primary (aka elementary) schools, including grades 1-6 for ages 6-12
  • Lower secondary (aka middle or junior high) schools, including grades 7-9 for ages 12-15
  • Upper secondary (aka high) schools, including grades 10-12 for ages 15-18.

Schooling is mandatory and free from age 6 to age 18. High school graduates typically progress to compulsory service with the armed forces – three years for males and two years for females.

In 2011/12, there were:

  • 2,459 primary schools (1,955 Jewish and 504 Arab) educating 922,252 learners (659,996 Jewish and 248,287 Arab);
  • 708 lower secondary schools (549 Jewish and 159 Arab) educating 269,087 learners (190,294 Jewish and 78,793 Arab);
  • 1,634 upper secondary schools (1,341 Jewish and 293 Arab) educating 373,749 learners (287,292 Jewish and 86,457 Arab).

Some 9% of middle and secondary schools are boarding schools.

There are four types, or ‘tracks’ for maintained schools:

  • State schools (Mamlachti) which the majority of pupils attend
  • State religious schools (Mamlachti dati) catering for Orthodox Jews
  • Ultra-orthodox Independent schools (Chinuch azmai) which concentrate on the study of religious literature
  • Arab and Druze schools which teach in Arabic and feature Arabic history and culture and Islam or the Druze faith.

In 2010, 57% of pupils in public sector schools were in state and state-religious schools, 16% in ultra-orthodox schools and 27% in Arab and Druze schools. There were also five integrated Arab-Jewish schools and a relatively small private sector.

There are nine universities: Ariel University Center of Samaria, Bar-Ilan, Ben-Gurion, Haifa, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Open University, Technion, Tel Aviv, Weizmann Institute of Science. In addition there are many other general and specialist higher education institutions, including over 20 teacher education providers.

The Ministry of Education lays down a broad national curriculum framework for schools but each:

‘may choose from a wide range of study units and teaching materials, provided by the Ministry of Education, which best suit the needs of its faculty and pupil population’.

One source says that, in primary schools:

  • The first two grades focus primarily on reading, writing and arithmetic;
  • Geography, history and science are introduced from grade 3; Arab schools also introduce Hebrew at this stage;
  • Foreign languages are introduced in grade 6, typically English or French; and
  • Religious education is compulsory throughout

Meanwhile secondary schools:

  • Divide students into academic and vocational tracks;
  • Within the academic track students follow a general course prior to specialising in the final two years;
  • Within the vocational track students pursue ‘technical, maritime, domestic or business studies’

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides further detail on these vocational options:

‘Technological schools train technicians and practical engineers on three levels, with some preparing for higher education, some studying toward a vocational diploma and others acquiring practical skills. Agricultural schools, usually in a residential setting, supplement basic studies with subjects relating to agronomy. Military preparatory schools, in two different settings, train future career personnel and technicians in specific fields required by the Israel Defense Forces; both programs are residential, one open to boys only, the other is coeducational. Yeshiva high schools, mainly boarding schools, with separate frameworks for boys and girls, complement their secular curricula with intensive religious studies and promote observance of tradition as well as a Jewish way of life. Comprehensive schools offer studies in a variety of vocations, ranging from bookkeeping to mechanics, electronics, hotel trades, graphic design and more.

Youth not attending one of the above schools are subject to the Apprenticeship Law, requiring them to study for a trade at an approved vocational school. Apprenticeship programmes are provided by the Ministry of Labor in schools affiliated with vocational networks. Lasting three to four years, these programmes consist of two years of classroom study followed by one/two years during which students study three days a week and work at their chosen trade on the other days. Trades range from hairstyling and cooking to mechanics and word processing.’

For the majority of students however, the ultimate outcome of secondary education is the matriculation certificate or Bagrut. According to Fulbright:

‘The current list of subjects which all candidates for the Bagrut must be tested is as follows:

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Desert Wildlife courtesy of yonajon

 Required Subject  Minimum Study Unit Level Required
Civics 1
Bible 2
Hebrew Literature 2
Hebrew Grammar 1
Hebrew Composition 1
History 2
English 3
Mathematics 3
TOTAL – Required Subjects 15

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Pupils may choose to devote more of their programme of studies to the above subjects and be tested at a level higher than the minimum required.

In addition to the required core subjects, each candidate for the Bagrut must be tested in one or more elective subjects, determined in keeping with the pupil’s interests and the course offerings of the high school in which he/she is enrolled.  Elective subjects are tested at the 3, 4, or 5 unit levels…

Pupils who intend to undertake academic degree studies at an Israeli university or college after graduating from high school need to prepare themselves to be tested in English at the 4 unit level, and in Mathematics at the 4 or 5 unit level. Typically students take at least one elective course at the 5 unit level. Entrance requirements vary depending on the field of study, and certain faculties require more than one course at the 5 unit level.’

A Taub Center Report adds:

‘As of 2009, 80 percent of Israeli 17-year-olds were enrolled in the 12th grade at State schools, with approximately 72 percent taking the matriculation exams. Forty-six percent earned a matriculation certificate upon graduation from upper secondary school, and 39 percent received a matriculation certificate that enables them to apply for further studies at institutions of higher education’.

Primary and lower secondary teachers complete a three-year teachers’ certificate or diploma, or a four year programme leading to a combined degree and teachers’ diploma. Upper secondary teachers must have an undergraduate degree and a teachers’ diploma. These can be obtained in a combined four-year programme or in succession, the diploma taking a year to complete.

Primary teachers are Ministry of Education employees, but secondary teachers are employed by their local authorities. In 2009/10 there were 49,717 staff employed in Hebrew sector primary schools and a further 17,844 employed in Arab and Druse primary schools. The comparable figures for secondary schools are 56,756 and 13,159 respectively.

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The Historical Development of Israeli Gifted Education

The material that follows is a patchwork quilt compiled from a variety of different online sources. The sources do not always agree exactly, but rarely is there sufficient evidence to support triangulation, so on occasion I have had to exercise some judgement in determining the most reliable source and the exact meaning of ambiguous terminology.

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From the 1950s to the 1980s

The education of gifted learners was being discussed within Israel’s education ministry as early as 1958. By 1961 the first residential programme for gifted disadvantaged teenagers had been established. By the late 1960s a variety of after-school enrichment activities were in place and, in 1971, a school for gifted learners was opened in Tel Aviv.

At roughly the same time a study commissioned by the education ministry recommended that it should have a Department for Gifted Children to steer national policy and development. The Department, established by its first director Dan Bitan, became fully operational in 1972.

Its immediate priority was to expand and co-ordinate the existing enrichment activities. By 1981 a network of enrichment centres was supporting over 5,000 students aged 6-17 (an estimated 30-40% of those eligible within Israel).

They offered courses in sciences, arts and humanities taught mostly by university lecturers and were funded by a combination of Ministry grant, support from the provider or sponsor and tuition fees charged to parents.

An expert committee appointed by the Ministry advised that the enrichment centre network should be further expanded and that the Department should also introduce separate pull-out classes for highly gifted learners within their existing schools, as opposed to separate schools for the gifted.

Initial pull-out classes were introduced in selected Tel Aviv and Haifa primary schools at grades 3 and 4 where learners accessed a specially constructed curriculum.

In the mid-1980s, the Department for Gifted Children was under the leadership of Blanka Burg. Its declared purpose was:

‘To identify the most able pupils on a countrywide scale, to develop teachers’ sensitivity for the needs of special pupils in their classes, and to provide proper framework and content, which will enable such development.’

By the late 1980s Israel had developed a separate programme of study for highly gifted learners throughout Grades 3-12. This incorporated elements of enrichment, extension and acceleration (though little early specialisation). Teachers were specially selected and trained.

A 1988 publication notes that the country had experimented successfully with in-school enrichment programmes which students attended for six hours a week.

  • Over 15 institutions were providing after school enrichment at primary level – students attended special courses twice a week in the sciences, humanities and arts. These were provided by universities, museums, libraries and similar organisations.
  • There were also 13 special classes for highly gifted learners. Admissions testing was undertaken in Grade 2 and successful learners required a mean IQ of 143. Classes began in Grade 3 and continue until either Grade 6 or Grade 12.
  • The curriculum in special classes included topics such as astrophysics and electronics. There was also emphasis on ‘integrating the different domains of knowledge’ and divergent thinking. The curriculum was flexible and, although there was some acceleration, the Ministry did not encourage it.
  • There was increasing emphasis placed on identifying disadvantaged and ethnic minority gifted students and there are boarding schools for able disadvantaged learners whose home circumstances are difficult.

In 1988, Goldring, Milgram and Chen produced a paper for the Ministry ‘Toward a coordinated educational policy for gifted and talented children’. This reviewed current provision and offered recommendations for the future direction of gifted education.

It proposed moving away from an identification process based solely on IQ testing, the introduction of a differentiated curriculum and personalised pedagogical strategies. Although these recommendations were accepted they were not implemented.

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Rain in the Golan Heights courtesy of vad levin

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The 1990s

By 1994, the Ministry’s Department for Gifted Education has acquired an extensive list of responsibilities:

  • Testing children throughout the country
  • Establishing unique enrichment frameworks
  • Holding in-service training courses and seminars
  • Instructing teachers and field-workers
  • School visits and establishing supervision and guidance for programme coordinators
  • Publishing guidance including a programme handbook and monthly bulletin
  • Supporting the testing and placement of new immigrant children
  • Support for Arab, Druze and Bedouin gifted children
  • Contact with professional bodies in Israel and overseas
  • Budgeting and allocating budgets against enrichment frameworks
  • Providing committee membership and administrative support

A steering committee has formulated goals for the various subject-specific enrichment frameworks supported by the Department incorporating cognitive and affective dimensions as well as social values.

Three types of enrichment programmes are on offer: afternoon extra-curricular activities, weekly programmes and special classes within students’ regular schools.

  • The afternoon extra-curricular activities are offered once a week, typically by a university, college or community centre. Learners choose two activities from a menu of options not normally encountered in the school curriculum. Such provision is targeted mainly at Grades 3-6, but programmes continue until Grade 9 in areas where there is no separate provision for lower secondary students. Access is for learners who score in the top 3% in examinations for their age group.
  • The weekly enrichment programmes are provided in a district or regional centre and are also targeted at Grades 3-6 and continue until Grade 9 where there is no alternative provision. The nature of the programmes vary depending on the needs of the students, the area served and the teachers’ expertise. A committee of programme directors monitors the overall provision.
  • The special school-based classes enable highly gifted learners to be taught in separate classes throughout primary, lower and upper secondary school. Students continue to participate in wider school activities and form relationships with peers outside their class. The curriculum is based on the normal school curriculum but with elements of faster pace, a variety of teaching methods and joint teaching with university staff. In some parts of the country such classes begin in Grade 7 and children access weekly enrichment programmes in the primary sector. But school-based classes operate in seven different regions throughout the country. They are open to those who score in the top 1% in examinations in their area (rather than the top 1% assessed on national norms). Students can enter and leave the class at any point, though the dropout rate is described as ‘quite low’.

The Department’s preference is to offer these frameworks across Israel to enable gifted learners to access them according to their needs, but there is not full choice between all three options in every locality because of organisational and budgetary constraints. An evaluative survey is currently under way.

There is no specific coverage of gifted children in normal teacher training so the Department provides in-service training for selected gifted education teachers. It offers one-day seminars, subject-specific and age-specific courses, courses on the social needs of gifted learners and training in new pedagogical techniques.

In 1995 the Ministry of Education’s Chief Scientist – one P Nesher – reviewed existing arrangements and recommended broadening identification processes, removing nationwide IQ testing and introducing identification of domain-specific abilities.

These recommendations were approved by the Ministry but headteachers and teachers were concerned whether they could be implemented in practice. In the event, the new methods were delayed and a transitional year was to be used to develop implementation tools and procedures. But this did not happen and so the old methods were once more retained.

An interesting footnote is provided by this record of a January 1999 meeting between Schlomit Rachmel (then Acting Director of the Department for Gifted Children) and the UK Parliament’s Select Committee on Education and Employment, which was conducting its own enquiry into Highly Able Children in England.

This reveals that:

  • Israeli parents find the term ‘highly able’ more controversial than ‘gifted’; the Department for Gifted Children is reported to be critical of ‘the fashion of inclusion’ (ie differentiated provision within normal classes).
  • All children in grades 2-4 are tested in maths and comprehension. Of these the top 15% take a series of five optional psychometric tests to establish the top 3% eligible for the enrichment programmes overseen by the Department. Schools can recommend that learners outside the top 15% should be put forward for psychometric testing. Parents receive letters about the tests and the results.
  • The tests require improvements, currently in train. Amongst the 3% there is a gender ratio of 2:1 in favour of boys and few learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is corrected to some extent by setting a lower threshold for girls and varying the overall threshold by district, but relatively advantaged learners are still over-represented.
  • Support for Arabic learners was introduced in 1993, with the introduction of Arabic-medium tests and 13 dedicated enrichment centres. Bedouin, Druze and East European populations are also supported.
  • Enrichment programmes provided for one afternoon weekly are accessed by 37% of the identified top 3%. Participants benefit from peer relationships, receive greater stimulation and derive positive self-esteem, but the contrast makes their other four school-based days less fulfilling (actually they are “wasted”);
  • In-school classes for gifted children can more accurately be described as ‘schools within schools’, since they typically cater for at least 100 pupils, divided into classes of 20-25 (compared with an average Israeli class size of 40. Fewer than one-fifth (20%) of the 3% gifted population attend such classes, which are perceived as more successful than the afternoon enrichment option.

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Israel Landscape courtesy of AntoniO BovinO

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From 2000 to 2004

In 2002, Rachmel and a colleague published an article in the Proceedings of ECHA’s 8th Conference (pp 113-116) which describes some leadership programmes included in the menu promoted by her Department which serves over 12,000 gifted learners in Grades 3-12.

Primary school programmes include:

  • One designed by the Hillel School in Ramat Gan (a central Israeli city) to  help gifted learners fulfil their academic and social leadership potential while promoting volunteering, accepting and respecting diversity, responsibility, personal and social commitment and empathy toward others. The aim was to match learners’ capabilities and interests with the needs of their local community. Activities included creating a library, designing learning games for peers and adopting a local special school.
  • At Tel-Hai College in the north of Israel, pupils worked alongside older people in the community to develop dramatic activities and stage productions.
  • Within Jerusalem’s Ofek programme, learners produced and broadcast a radio programme on the public broadcasting channel featuring youth-related themes such as ‘children of divorced parents, being different, and internet addiction’.

A lower secondary school in Petach Tikya engaged students in communities of enquiry to explore literary themes such as adolescence, fears, and the birth of a sibling. They produced a portfolio of their own stories, poems and videos.

The paper also describes projects in which educators support students to produce research papers for matriculation and others that tackle real-life problems in the local community.

Students at Jerusalem’s Israel Arts and Science Academy in Jerusalem (see Part Three) worked with community leaders to transform a nearby ravine into a public park. Meanwhile, students in ‘the High School Near the University in Jerusalem’ (probably the Hebrew University Secondary School) were working with two Arab schools in Nazareth on a project to reduce prejudice and increase tolerance towards others.

A second paper in the Proceedings, by two staff from the Gordon College of Teacher Education, reports on teacher training at this time. Key points include:

  • The identified gifted population (3%) follow one of three learning frameworks: ‘classes for gifted children in regular schools, one day a week of enrichment outside the school or special enrichment groups after school’.
  • But there is no framework for the preparation of gifted education teachers. Some students may undertake a one-semester course, but most receive no training at all and have no experience of teaching gifted children.
  • Gordon College introduced a training course in 1998 intended for teachers with three years’ experience recommended by their principals. The 224-hour course was provided over one year, with eight hours of sessions per week.
  • Topics addressed include:

The gifted child – cognitive, social and emotional aspects, giftedness and gender, stereotypes and the gifted, methods of identification and frameworks for the fostering of the gifted.

Curriculum development for gifted children – theoretical models for integrative approaches, demonstration and practice in the development of interdisciplinary programs for gifted children.

Information technology – developing skills in seeking, classifying and organizing information.

Creative and inventive thinking – developing thinking strategies, meta-cognition, technological aspects and initiatives.

 Developing imaginative resources and curiosity – learning via riddles – the question and problem as the center of learning and as a legitimate motivational technique (instead of solution and knowledge), creating interest and developing curiosity, and encouraging achievement.’

Participants also visit schools and work within the learning frameworks, typically via the enrichment groups supported at Gordon College.

  • A survey showed that most participants were mid-career teachers aged 25-56. Some 70 % taught in primary schools. Two thirds said they took the course to ‘improve their teaching in the regular classroom or to teach gifted children in a normal school’. Some 10% said they wanted to teach in the gifted frameworks and 3% were simply pursuing ‘personal and professional advancement’.
  • 40% of graduates from the course work on gifted children’s programmes in normal schools, 30% have developed such programmes in their schools while the remaining 30% continue teaching normal classes but report that ‘their lessons have become more challenging and are constructed with an interdisciplinary approach that emphasises thinking and creative aspects’.

A third paper describes support for gifted learners in ‘mixed ability’ classes provided at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University Secondary School. In fact, these arrangements involve: ‘Highly gifted children (IQ above 140) study[ing] together with talented pupils (IQ above 110) in a one to one ratio’

There are also some rather rambling ‘Meditations on the Realisation of an Educational Vision: Israel Arts and Science Academy’. They do reveal that:

‘During the 2001-2 school year, the school’s 207 students came from 112 communities. Almost 10 % of the students are Arabs, almost 10 % come from Orthodox junior high schools and over 20 % are immigrants…over 80 % of the students receive considerable scholarships through our needbased [sic] financial aid system…’

Finally there is a description of a series of activities offered by the Weizmann Institute:

  • Math-by-Mail for learners throughout Israel in Grades 3-10. Mathematicians set problems at four different levels for learners to solve at home. Five sets of problems are issued each year, translated into Russian, English and Korean.
  • A four-week international summer residential programme for 75 pre-university science students who work on research projects in twos and threes, supervised by postgraduates and scientists.
  • A two-week residential National Science Workshop for outstanding Israeli upper secondary school students again built around research projects.
  • A parallel two-week Science, Music and Art Programme for 60 14 year-olds with potential to excel in those fields. The purpose is to build connections between the three disciplines. In the morning there is interest-based study in groups; in the afternoon there are interdisciplinary workshops.
  • Maths Olympiads for lower and upper secondary students respectively, plus a physics tournament for five-person upper secondary school teams.
  • The Arrow (the Hebrew equivalent is an acronym for ‘young researchers’) for a group of scientifically talented learners in Grades 10-12. Those in Grade 10 receive ‘a broad overview of modern scientific research’ through five intensive two-day sessions. They subsequently undertake a long-term research project which can be submitted towards matriculation. This programme was piloted in Tel-Aviv High School and went national in 1999.

A more contemporary account of Weizmann’s provision is included in Part Three of this post.

Two further publications are available from around this time, both by Rachmel and colleagues within the Department for Gifted Students.

The first is called ‘Opportunities for Realisation of Potential in Science and Technology in Gifted Programs in Israel’.

This distinguishes three types of opportunity: acceleration, enrichment – provided in the curriculum and as extra-curricular activity – and utilising science and technology to serve the community.

Following a brief outline of gifted provision, the article lists the goals of Israeli gifted programmes as:

The cognitive dimension:

‘Developing specific skills and abilities in various talent areas, in line with individual needs and interests.

Enhancing the ability to consume information critically and effectively. Strengthening the tendency toward strategic thinking.

Encouraging divergent and inter-disciplinary thinking.

Developing the ability to cope with uncertainty and deal with complex problems.

Enhancing the ability to produce knowledge in various fields of interest’

The social dimension:

‘Enhancing moral decision making.

Developing awareness of moral and social dilemmas.

Strengthening sensitivity toward others.

Developing the ability to work in teams.

Accepting the need for autonomy, while maintaining reasonable limits for freedom.

Developing social interest and commitment to society’.

The personality dimension:

‘Developing persistence in performing tasks and postponing satisfaction.

Enhancing commitment to tasks.

Encouraging originality.

Enhancing curiosity.

Encouraging daring to express unusual, out of the way ideas.

Enhancing personal initiative.

Developing competency, which includes knowing what I am capable of, comprehending how I can make a difference and how I can cope with stereotypes.’

The paper reports considerable reluctance to pursue acceleration:

‘for fear that acceleration may cause difficulties in their social and emotional development by increasing the already existing gap between their social and cognitive development. Therefore, grade skipping and early entrance to the university for full academic studies are rarely performed and then, only in individual cases.’

Nevertheless, the Department introduced a programme in 2000/01 with the Open University in Israel for students in grades 9-12 who already study in separate gifted classes.

The course is designed to provide enrichment during the school day, develop independent learning and problem-solving skills, develop social skills through interaction with gifted peers and provide the opportunity to secure an undergraduate science degree while still in upper secondary school.

Participating students attend sessions at an Open University Campus, initially one course of 3-4 hours per semester and then two courses if they wish. These take place during the school day. They complete units of study during course time and undertake independent study tasks requiring 4-5 hours’ work. There is an examination at the end of each semester.

In 2000/01 97 students in Grades 9 and 10 began the course and 77 continued into the second semester. In 2001/02, 104 students enrolled in the first semester. Most opted for maths and computer science courses. In the first year the majority completed the course successfully but several organisational issues were identified.

The second course type described is interdisciplinary enrichment. A range of robotics courses are outlined , all involving the design, building and testing of a robot.

The third type is illustrated by:

  • A ‘country of water streams’ project, developed with the Ministry for the Quality of the Environment. The aim was to monitor the air and water quality across Israel. Gifted lower secondary students undertook the work in their areas, sharing and analysing the information they had collected online. Students met together at intervals to learn about ecology and biology.
  • The Young Entrepreneurs Project, built around establishing a company, developing and marketing a product. This operated in two self-contained gifted education classes.
  • The I Can Also Do Project: a competition to develop models or prototypes of products to support people with disabilities.

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Judean Desert courtesy of chaim zvi

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The second paper is entitled ‘Science Education Programmes in Israel via Distance Learning’. It describes online science classes.

The introduction refers to the established gifted education frameworks and also ‘two special schools’ (one is presumably the Israel Arts and Science Academy).

But there are few enrolments in these frameworks in rural areas:

‘In these communities, the additional enrichment opportunities provided under the auspices of the Department are rather limited due to the distance from institutions of higher learning; and, in many cases, because of difficult economic conditions. Hence, there is a gap in learning opportunities offered to gifted students in large urban areas as opposed to those living in small, remote communities.’

Distance learning provides such learners – who may feel isolated in their schools – with the opportunity to connect with peers of similar ability elsewhere. It also ‘leads to higher quality work than in heterogeneous groups where gifted students are few and far between’

The courses were developed with three aims:

  • To offer intellectual challenge, encouraging learners explore subjects in greater depth, and to demonstrate commitment and responsibility for learning.
  • To provide distance learning ‘as a basis for future learning’ and
  • To develop an enjoyable learning experience within the context of lifelong learning.

They were designed to stimulate independent learning and enable students to utilise a range of learning styles, to develop an interdisciplinary perspective on science and utilise university experts to expose students to unfamiliar methods of scientific investigation and analysis.

The report suggests that such distance learning options were first developed around 1994:

‘During the first eight years of operation of the internet site, we focused on scientific surveys and complex units in a broad variety of fields of knowledge which were written by academic experts and suited to gifted students, grades 7 and up. Subjects such as cellular telephones, the problem of the rain forests in Brazil, or a literary analysis of the Harry Potter series had a tremendous number of hits. Each survey was accompanied by questions for thought, links to additional sites dealing with the same subject, referral to relevant illustrations and animations. Likewise, the writer of the series facilitated discussion groups and answered questions for a period of two months from the date that the survey was placed on the site. Every month, we put a new survey on the site.’

….we made a decision in 2002 to change the concept of the internet site. It was clear that in order to meet the needs of the gifted students, especially in the periphery, the activities had to be organised systematically and a virtual school had to be established. Four courses were prepared by experts from academia and from the Department. We approached seventh to ninth grade students in the special centres and there was a great show of enthusiasm. The choice of relatively older students was based on professional considerations. These students usually master the necessary technological skills, know English well and are ready for independent learning. We limited the number of students in each course to 30, in order to facilitate feedback and formation of a virtual community.’

This later virtual school approach was piloted from 2002 to 2004 in partnership with Tel-Aviv University and Israel’s Center for Educational Technology.

The courses offered included the senses, artificial intelligence, the history of maths and environmental ethics. They were designed to stimulate divergent and higher order thinking, to examine scientific concepts from philosophical, psychological and social perspectives, to make inter-disciplinary connections and address ethical issues.

Each course was divided into 12 units, each published online on a weekly basis. Courses comprised an introduction, supporting texts, links to online resources and tasks for participants to complete. Instructors provided online feedback on the tasks with an additional 1-day face-to-face meeting per course. Following feedback after year one, the instructors set aside discrete time and offered extra support to learners who needed it. Student forums were introduced and students and their parents received progress reports and a final report card.

Initially the target group consisted of students from self-contained lower secondary gifted classes who undertook the courses during school time. In the second year, it was expanded to all gifted lower secondary school students from across Israel, with students participating on a voluntary basis.

In the first year of the pilot, 50% of 115 participants completed the courses. In the second year there were 155 participants, 71% completing the first semester courses and 88% the second semester courses (possibly as a result of the introduction of enhanced support for participants).

The results demonstrated that:

‘with adequate individualised support, distance learning can provide a challenging, yet rewarding independent learning experience to gifted students, especially to those in the periphery who do not have access to many other resources. In line with the objectives of the courses, further consideration is needed on how to enhance intellectual meeting and team work among students from different schools who communicate via the internet. In line with the findings concerning in-depth study, another issue to consider is whether to promote more exposure to various content areas, or to in-depth investigation in specific areas of interest, supported by mentors.’

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The 2004 Reforms

2004 marked a watershed in the development of Israeli gifted education. The key source of information is a lecture given by Rachmel in Korea in June 2005 ‘The Policy For Promoting Gifted Education in Israel 2005’.

The purpose of the lecture is to:

‘Present the new policy for promoting gifted education in Israel, as set out by a steering committee, whose recommendations were adopted by the ministry administration in September 2004. These serve as part of the general reform that is planned to take place in the education system in Israel over the coming five years.’

The lecture includes a taxonomy of existing provision which is slightly different to those above. It references:

Three ‘unique morning frameworks’ – special classes in schools, weekly enrichment days and now a residential school – for the top 1-1.5% of performers in  national tests. Learners are selected by age group and locality (so not according to national norms).

  • Special classes operate in five primary and 15 secondary schools. The curriculum, though based on the standard curriculum, includes elements of enrichment, extension and acceleration. In secondary classes students undertake an additional option involving academic study at higher education level (concurrent enrolment).
  • Weekly enrichment days are pull-out sessions offered at regional centres. Organised transport is provided. Some provide for Grades 3-6, others for Grades 3-9 and some for Grades 3-11. Some centres have mixed populations while others provide separately for Jewish, Arab or Druze learners. Content does not feature in the normal school curriculum. The framework is permissive and provision varies widely, depending on the number of pupils and their needs, the location of the centre and the skills and preferences of the leader and teachers.
  • The residential centre is the Israel Arts and Science Academy which, though established by a private foundation, is part funded by the Government. Entrants must demonstrate ‘an above-average general scholastic ability, excellence in a specific field and the necessary social skills’.

Afternoon enrichment classes for those in the top 3% of performers on universal national tests administered in Grades 2 or 3. These are after-school programmes for Grades 3-6. Pupils take two classes a week selected from a menu.

Private frameworks not administered by the Government. They provide in-school enrichment or after-school enrichment classes and ‘operate (almost) exclusively in affluent residential areas’. Such frameworks have not been mentioned in previous descriptions.

A steering committee, chaired by Baruch Nevo of Haifa University, was appointed in January 2003 and reported in July 2004. It was asked to consider all aspects of support for gifted pupils from first principles and made a series of fundamental recommendations.

The steering committee is supportive of a diverse range of providers while noting that:

‘Without government aid it will be impossible to identify gifted and talented children in peripheral areas, underprivileged neighbourhoods, new immigrants and more.’

It therefore recommends

‘Placing these frameworks under government pedagogic supervision and extending budgetary assistance to them according to criteria that are to be established.’

This should help to secure equality of access, so countering social inequality, while introducing quality assurance across the full range of provision, so improving the overall quality of state education.

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Principles

The committee established five basic principles to underpin future gifted education:

  • ‘Israel’s human capital is the primary quality resource at its disposal in facing the challenges of the 21st century. Investing in developing the talents of gifted pupils serves as a vital component in preparing the future generation of scientists, artists and trailblazers.
  • Equal opportunity in education requires differential investment of resources in accordance with the characteristics and needs of each and every pupil, so that each pupil will be able to optimally realise his potential. Gifted pupils have special characteristics and needs, similarly to pupils with other unique characteristics (slow pupils, pupils with learning disabilities and more).
  • The world of human talent is diverse. Giftedness can be manifested in general cognitive skills, in high achievements, in artistic or sports-oriented skills.
  • High intelligence and other human talents are dynamic qualities that can be advanced and shaped. Neglecting the potential for unique talent impairs the gifted pupil’s ability to contribute in the future to himself and to society.
  • The special characteristics and needs of gifted pupils require a unique learning environment and unique study tracks, with respect to the pedagogic method, suitable teachers and curricula.’

The lecture proceeds to expand on these principles. It identifies the characteristics that gifted education programmes should seek to develop in participants as:

  •  Achievement in their areas of talent and expectations for them to excel as adults;
  • Development of ‘determination and task commitment, creativity and originality, curiosity, intellectual courage, intellectual or artistic integrity, the ability and desire to continually learn and develop, the ability to think under conditions of uncertainty, the ability for multidirectional thinking, efficient consumption of information, a broad perspective and awareness of ethical implications’;
  • Becoming part of a ‘serving elite’ displaying social commitment, morality and humanity.

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Definitions

When defining its target population, the committee decided to use the term ‘gifted’ to denote all types of excellence, whether in academic study, sports or arts. A distinction is made between ‘general scholastic ability/general level of intelligence’ and a ‘specific scholastic field of excellence’.

It defines giftedness in statistical terms, distinguishing between:

  • Gifted pupils – ‘The top percentile of the population in each cohort, in each of the spheres of giftedness as defined above, on condition that they also meet the criteria of motivation and creativity…In terms of IQ, this refers to an IQ of 135 and above’.
  • Outstanding pupils – ‘The top 5% of the population in each cohort, in each of the spheres of giftedness as defined above, on condition that they also meet the criteria of motivation and creativity…In terms of IQ, this refers to an IQ of 125 and above’.

The additional criteria are defined in these terms:

  • ‘Level of motivation (perseverance, determination) above the cohort median.
  • Level of creativity (originality) above the cohort median.’

The commentary observes that the number in each cohort cannot be quantified because it is not known how many satisfy the motivation and creativity criteria – and because some individuals will feature within more than one category of giftedness.

Because the spheres of giftedness are counted separately:

‘The committee estimates that according to its definition, and considering all the spheres together, there are in Israel 3-4% gifted pupils and an additional 8-12% outstanding pupils.’

There was clearly disagreement within the committee over whether national or local norms should be imposed:

‘The pool of talents is not uniformly distributed throughout all cities and schools in Israel. A uniform, nationwide definition of giftedness (a “national norm”) could lead to a situation where in certain localities or geographical regions, very few (or very many) gifted pupils will be found.

This fact sparked a severe debate within the committee, between those who argued that resources should be invested in nurturing gifted pupils at a national level in order to advance this group in particular, and those who argued that it is necessary to promote the top percentile relative to their place of residence, so that they can serve as a catalyst that will promote all pupils in the locality. The latter also argued that this should be done in order to operate unique programmes spread all over the country, rather than concentrating on a number of centres alone.’

It was ultimately decided to adopt a mixed policy with regard to the definition of gifted children.

  • Outstanding pupils (the top 5%) would be defined on a local basis – the outstanding pupils in the school or the locality.
  • Gifted pupils (the top 1%) would be defined on a national basis.

This is very similar to the approach adopted in England, though the Committee also separately distinguishes ‘super-gifted’ children, which it defines as those with an IQ above 155, of which there are only 10-15 per cohort (see below).

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Identification and Provision

Identification should be undertaken using a variety of sources and instruments, rather than solely through IQ tests as previously occurred in Israel (at least the third time this recommendation has been made).

Support should ‘start as early as possible – depending on when talents emerge and can be identified – and go on continuously until the end of Grade 12’.

Moreover:

‘An affirmative action policy should be employed in favour of girls and in favour of outstanding and gifted pupils from lower socioeconomic strata, as long as the rate of affirmative action does not place the candidates in an inferior position relative to other gifted children in the nurturing frameworks.’

Gifted education should be based on acceleration, extension and enrichment. The choice between these, or their combination, should depend (as before) on:

‘the nature of the specific programme, the capabilities and tendencies of the gifted pupils taking part in it and the skills of the teachers in the programme’.

The main forms of provision should include:

  • Separate schools for gifted learners – the committee suggests three supra-regional schools in north, central and southern Israel respectively;
  • Separate classes for gifted learners, drawing pupils from a given region, as already exist;
  • Concentrated enrichment days, when outstanding and gifted learners are transported to a designated centre for one day a week, as already exist;
  • Afternoon enrichment classes, as already exist;
  • A range of new study units for gifted and outstanding learners;
  • ‘Mentoring tracks in regular schools and in summer courses, with the aim of enabling empowerment and a solution to unique needs, through experts who will undergo special training’;
  • School-based resource centres to support learners in undertaking research and extension of subjects they study in school;
  • New acceleration tracks developed in partnership with universities for learners in gifted classes;
  • Recognition and accreditation of such courses as an alternative to matriculation exams.

.

Support

Each school should have a special co-ordinator responsible for gifted and outstanding pupils. Each ‘super-gifted’ pupil should also have a ‘special salaried coach/guide’.

Special teacher training provision should be developed:

‘The objective is to achieve a situation where each teacher who wishes to teach in the unique programmes must take part in a track consisting of 224 study hours, which will grant him a certificate as an expert qualified teacher for teaching gifted pupils.’

These arrangements should be governed by legislation which will:

‘guarantee the right of every gifted and outstanding pupil to study in a supportive and empowering environment, in order to realise his skills and capabilities. The law is intended to define the institutions and programmes recognised for budgeting by the Ministry of Education for advancing these pupils’ .

The steering committee proposes to transform itself into a permanent committee that will convene every two months to monitor and support implementation.

The lecture concludes with a statement that a two-year operational plan has been developed to implement the first phase of reform in accordance with these recommendations.

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Dome of the Rock courtesy of laika slips the lead

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This treatment is repeated, almost verbatim, in a chapter of a 2007 publication ‘Science Education: Models and Networking of Student Research’ (Ed Csermely et al), the only addition being a few numbers included within the description of existing provision:

  • Within the ‘morning frameworks’ the special classes operate in five primary and 17 secondary schools (so two more than before) attended by 2,583 pupils during the 2006 school year;
  • In 2005-06, 320 students benefited from concurrent enrolment opportunities with Tel Aviv and Haifa Universities;
  • Weekly enrichment days are held in 52 regional centres and attracted 6,667 learners in 2005-06;
  • 980 students attended ‘specialised secondary schools’ (this version includes music, visual and performing arts schools, so presumably more than just the Israel Arts and Science Academy);
  • 4,200 learners attended after school enrichment classes in 2005-06;
  • 170 teachers currently attend four university-based training courses for intending ‘master teachers’ of gifted and outstanding students.

This version also references the online provision already described above, as well as university enrichment programmes, science days and youth conferences (though no numbers are attached to these).

It describes part of the response to the steering committee’s recommendations as:

‘developing programmes for outstanding students in a nationwide network…The role of the [Ministry’s] Division of Gifted and Outstanding Students will be to initiate the development of the network, to devise the network’s “communication protocol”, and to determine the norms and standards for the programmes by using means such as performance standards for the programmes and their staff. The division will also encourage the formation of new network intersections and connections, while maintaining the network’s professional and administrative infrastructure…Limited additional resources will be invested by the Ministry of Education in the development of the network, while local authorities will finance most of the project.’

It also reports that the law proposed by the steering committee has ‘passed its first hearing’ but is not yet statute. The two-year implementation plan remains under consideration.

One of the concurrent enrolment options is briefly described on the Haifa Foundation website. The ETGAR (Challenge) Project was established in Spring 2006 to provide a 4-year University of Haifa Bachelor of Science course to secondary pupils who spend one and a half days a week at the University taking computer science courses taught by lecturers. They complete three years of the degree by this means and return to the University after compulsory army service to complete the final year.

In 2006, 44 participants formed a pilot group; the 2007 group comprised 68 students and the web-page refers to plans to increase the cohort to 90, producing an overall group of 200. Altogether, 15 computer science and maths courses are to be offered and lecturers specially selected and trained.

Ten scholarships are to be provided to support participants from disadvantaged backgrounds. There is more information on the project website (in Hebrew only), though an example of a computer programming course is also available in English.

Further information about a raft of similar provision, as it now operates, is set out in Part Three.

Also dating from this period, an article on the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Mashav) website records special courses provided for Korean Teachers by Mashav on Education for Gifted Children in 2004 and early 2005.

This tells us a little more about the pre-reform Israeli testing regime:

‘The search for such children is currently conducted in the 3rd grade. The annual testing process is two-stage – the first in the school, the second in special testing centres. At the school level, reading comprehension and maths abilities are evaluated in tests administered by local teachers. Those scoring in the top 15% are sent to national second-stage testing. The second stage is similar to psychometric tests, although changes are being planned in this regards. The top 1.5% from each geographical area in the second stage of testing are enrolled in gifted programmes; the top 3% in each area are eligible to participate in extra-curricular programmes in the afternoon. Thus the most talented children in every locality participate. There are special tests for Arab, Druze and Bedouin children to eliminate language and cultural bias. New immigrants and children with learning disabilities, hyperactivity and ADHA are tested individually.’

The range of Israel provision is briefly outlined and this comment is offered:

‘What makes the Israeli programme unique is its development of material for all three programmes by a State entity; its scope – operating throughout the country; its pluralism – allowing local school boards to choose among various models; and its character – that all three programmes are based on a holistic approach – addressing both scholastic, and social and emotional growth.’

A November 2006 newspaper report summarises the steering committee’s recommendations prior to their consideration within the Ministry. Interestingly it notes uneven participation in existing gifted programmes:

‘The selection process for special programmes has been criticised due to the relatively high percentage of girls and low percentage (10 percent) of Israeli Arab children. The number of children of Ethiopian immigrants participating in the programmes is also very low.

Two-thirds of the schools with classes for gifted pupils are in Tel Aviv and the country’s centre.’

The membership of the steering group is given as:

‘Professor Zamira Mevorah of Bar Ilan University headed the steering committee, which included Nobel laureate Professor Aharon Chehanover of the Technion, Safed College President Professor Baruch Nevo, and the Director General of The Society for Excellence through Education, Hezki Arieli’.

This contradicts other sources that put Nevo as Chair of the Committee.

A Committee source is quoted:

‘According to our plan, an excellent pupil will be one in every 20 children, and a gifted [pupil] will be one in 100…This is a significant increase in the number of pupils, but it is still unclear whether there is available funding for the programme.’

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Here ends Part One of this post. Part Two takes the development timeline up to the present day and examines the contemporary Israel national programme in all its glory, while Part Threetakes a closer interest in some of the many initiatives and institutions that form part of the complex web of Israeli gifted education provision.

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GP

November 2012

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