Gifted Education in Israel: Part Two

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This is the second of three instalments in an extensive review of Israeli gifted education.

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Part One provided background on Israel and its education system before charting the development of Israeli gifted education up to 2006 or thereabouts.

This second part of the trilogy considers 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.

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Implementation from 2007-2008

It is not straightforward to piece together the history of the subsequent implementation of the 2004 steering committee’s proposals, though interesting insights can be gleaned from a rich variety of sources.

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The Official View

The Division for Gifted and Outstanding Students carries a link to a 2008 presentation in English by Rachmel .

This begins with an anglicised version of the Department’s vision:

‘The division for gifted and outstanding students aspire to lead a culture in which excellence is a central value. In our vision personal excellence and human commitment and sensitivity to community exists simultaneously. We are committed to the creation of flexible and dynamic learning environments, which will enable pedagogical conversation challenge and creation of new knowledge .The actualisation of “the environment to which we aspire” means that students and teachers are equal in their curiosity and in their commitment to repeatedly take each other to new fields of knowledge.  This will develop new possibilities for both teacher and pupil and create patterns of instruction and education that encourage continuous regeneration.’

The taxonomy of provision is now separated between gifted and outstanding students, as heralded by the steering committee’s recommendations (numbers participating in 2008 are included in brackets):

Gifted (13,692)

  • 89 Special classes for the top 1.5% operating within normal schools, now in 24 primary and secondary schools in nine large cities (3,212)
  • Pull-out programmes for the top 1.5% located in Gifted Centres in 52 cities and towns (6,733)
  • Specialised secondary schools – the Israel Art and Science Academy (IASA) plus an unnamed ‘School combining Jewish and Science studies’ and academies of art and music (number not given)
  • Afternoon enrichment classes in 30 cities and towns (2,947)
  • The Virtual School, providing 10 semester-long online distance learning courses (350)
  • Academic accreditation (450)

Outstanding (12,263)

  • Special school-based programmes called ‘Amirim’ (see below) to nurture excellent students and develop a wider culture of excellence in schools (2,500)
  • Special programmes conducted through regional Gifted Centres (number not given)
  • Afternoon enrichment classes in 30 localities – for the top 5% only (3,803)
  • Special community programmes ‘An anchor to community’ (Referred to as ‘NGO – Excellence- 2000’:(5,960)

The presentation runs through the new tripartite definition set out by the steering committee and provides a single pyramid diagram to illustrate the national implementation plan:

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Continuing previous themes, the overall programme is once more characterised as a national network comprising regional, NGO, urban and school-based activities.

The forthcoming work programme, consequent on the new direction, includes:

  • Expanding the existing frameworks and tracks (these are listed as concurrent enrolment, monthly youth seminars, personal mentoring, super-gifted provision, distance learning and annual seminars);
  • Extending student screening for specialised schools;
  • Developing new curricular units;
  • Development of in-service teacher training (the 224 hour course requirement), training for expert professionals, student counsellors and local and district   co-ordinators;

The law for gifted education has not yet progressed beyond ‘the first hearing’.

Other sources add interesting context and detail to this official statement from the central government perspective.

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Gaps in Professional Development

First there is a paper from September 2007 reflecting on the proposed development of a new course as part of undergraduate teacher education at Beit Berl College.

The writer, the Head of the School of Education, emphasises that he wants a course to equip teachers to work with gifted learners in mixed ability settings rather than in special classes for the gifted.

He notes that there are no full academic programmes of this kind ‘but only partial courses, usually within the framework of in-service training’, yet this is a universal training need.

His proposed course would:

‘not only open a unique department in an Israeli academic institution, but it would also broaden the scope of the Ministry of Education’s projects for gifted children, which mostly concentrate on one day a week of enrichment (outside their regular classrooms), or other programmes of this kind. For Beit Berl College, it was important for its identification with excellence, but most importantly, the programme we suggested was supposed to be a common department for the School of Education and the Arab Institute at Beit Berl.’

The writer proceeds to summarise the internal arguments for and against the proposal, demonstrating that discomfort with support for gifted education is very much alive in parts of the Israeli education system.

Although the programme was finally approved, the writer concludes:

‘Even though the programme for training teachers for gifted children was sent to the Ministry of Education in April 2007, to date (November 2007) we did not receive any comment or reaction from the Ministry. This is inductive [sic] of the entire situation.’

There is now a Department for Excellence in Education at Beit Berl which ‘provides professional development for teachers of children with high abilities and develops innovative programmes tailored to the unique needs of gifted pupils’.

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Too Few Gifted Disadvantaged Learners

A further critical perspective is captured by a January 2007 newspaper article which claims that gifted education in Tel Aviv is ‘mostly for the rich’.

It notes that, of the 98 children in the primary school programme at the Graetz School – the only one in the City – 89 are from the city’s ‘well-off northern and central districts, while only nine come from the poorer southern and eastern districts’ – and five of the nine live in ‘relatively well-off neighbourhoods’. Meanwhile there is limited provision in the Arab sector.

The paper attributes this squarely to the test-based identification process:

‘Since 1984, the Henrietta Szold Institute (the National Institute for Research in the Behavioral Sciences) has been responsible for identifying gifted children in Israel. The findings published here indicate that the institution’s screening tests discriminate in favour of children from higher socioeconomic levels in communities with large gaps between rich and poor.’

The response from the Ministry suggests that the new policy will improve matters, but changes cannot be made under the current selection process:

‘”It’s not possible to institute affirmative action for children from south Tel Aviv,” the director of the Education Ministry’s Department for Gifted Students, Shlomit Rachmel, said. “We work in accordance with local norms, not on the neighbourhood level. If there is a big gap between groups of gifted students, a heterogenous [sic] group will be formed that will change the essence of the programme. We are preparing to develop a range of tools that will examine not only learning ability but also motivation and creativity, and using them, we will reach the population that is underrepresented in the gifted programmes.”’

It is not made clear how changing the means of identification will tackle the problem of heterogeneous groups however.

The article continues:

‘The Head of Tel Aviv’s Department of Primary Education, Hani Broderson, is not comfortable with the current situation… “The problem is that all of Tel Aviv is a single testing area, despite the great difference among the neighbourhoods. Together with the Education Ministry, we have considered ways to increase the representation of students from the south of the city. One possibility was to define the gifted students from the south separately from those of the north and to guarantee a place for them at Graetz, but then it turned out there were large gaps between the two groups.”’

The story suggests a rather inflexible approach to local identification, especially when one recalls that the steering committee suggested such distinctions might be made ‘in the school or the locality’.

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Student Satisfaction

A 2008 study ‘Satisfaction With School Among Gifted Israeli Students Studying in Various Frameworks’ (pp39-50) by Vidergor and Reiter reports the results of a survey of 229 gifted learners studying in separate classes and pull-out programmes (including some who had dropped out) and 140 other students at the same primary and lower secondary schools.

The study was undertaken in the light of a recent increase in dropout rates amongst gifted students in lower secondary schools. It observes:

 ‘Dropping out of a gifted programme in Israel is mainly associated with pullout programmes at gifted education centres. There is a tendency for gifted elementary or junior high school students to choose to stop their studies at the centre and return to the regular classroom. From that point on they are not involved in any gifted programme. They can be identified in many classrooms around the country, but the exact number of pullout programme dropouts is not available.’

The results showed that students outside the pull-out programmes expressed the highest overall satisfaction with school, though only slightly higher than those within them. Not surprisingly, the dropouts expressed the lowest satisfaction. There were, however, variations in five identified dimensions of satisfaction.

Further analysis of the reasons for dropout showed that 80% had dropped out after 6th grade, although 70% of those said that they were satisfied with the programme they had left. The most cited reasons were: too much work (‘school overload’) (50%) and lack of interest (37%).

The authors note that pupils experiencing pull-out one day a week find it hard to make up for the day of normal school they have missed while also performing well in the pull-out sessions:

‘This is exacerbated by the fact that there in [sic] no system or person in charge of facilitating or bridging the gap between the two…Thus, a situation where gifted students are forced back to the regular classroom and left with no programme to nurture their abilities and talents, affects their academic and general self-concept as they grow older…. measures should be taken to develop a suitable programme at the regular school to accommodate their needs.’

Such criticism suggests that Israeli gifted educators have fallen into the trap of loading more work – rather than more challenging work – on to their gifted learners. Moreover, the blend of pull-out and regular provision is not properly co-ordinated, while dropouts are assumed no longer to require gifted provision.

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A Regional Illustration

A blog post from July 2008 offers a different perspective, outlining the development of a regional gifted programme in the city of Kiryat Malakhi. The centre, one of 51 says the post, replaces another which closed down a few years beforehand.

Given this situation, the organisers decided to begin recruiting in Grade 4, adding an additional grade each year. Pupils identified as within the top 1.5% of learners come to the centre for a full school day every Tuesday, followed by those in the top 5% who attend an after-school programme from 4.00-6.45 PM. There are 30 sessions a year.

Twenty-eight attended the former session in 2007 and, in 2008, 52 from Grades 4 and 5 are expected to attend. The after school session began with 40 Grade 4 pupils and will expand to at least 60 pupils for Grades 4 and 5.

The part-time director is a teacher from a local secondary school who spends about 25% of her working week undertaking the role. She co-ordinates a team of teachers who run the sessions, which focus primarily on science and creative thinking.

Some of the courses for the school-day cohort include marine biology, artificial intelligence, robotics and heroes in films through history. The after-school classes include astronomy, biochemistry, game theory and code-breaking.

The centre hopes to expand its provision to cater for the top 20% of learners over time.

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Gender Imbalance

A final snapshot is provided by a report on gender imbalance in the gifted programme. The post reacts to the fact that the Ministry of Education is introducing new requirements for creativity and motivation into the screening process, which may serve to rectify the existing gender imbalance, in favour of boys, as selected through the current screening test.

It considers whether such a change is justified, noting that Rachmel has pointed out that:

‘Girls generally score higher than boys do in the advanced levels of Mathematics and Physics in matriculation exams, as well as in academic studies’.

It concludes that changing the admission criteria is not itself a case of positive discrimination but is intended to eliminate the need for positive discrimination which currently exists, by virtue of the fact that girls have previously been admitted with a slightly lower grade than boys.
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Bethlehem Wide View courtesy of Jeff Cushner

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Implementation from 2009 to 2010

I can identify two primary sources of information about progress in the final years of the last decade:

  • A paper by Rachmel and Nevo called ‘Education of Gifted Children: A General Roadmap and the Case of Israel’ which seems to have been published in 2009 as part of a book called Creativity in Mathematics and the Education of Gifted Students; and
  • A paper by Rachmel and Leikin called ‘Education of Gifted Students in Israel: General and Mathematics Education’ which appears in a 2009 volume of Gifted Education Press Quarterly.

The former is built around the assumption that:

‘When a nation or an organisation makes a strategic decision to establish a large-scale programme for the education of the gifted, it has to follow a certain roadmap that includes several crossroads; at each crossroad a choice must be made between several options.’

The first part of the paper sets out the different decision points in this roadmap.

Two interesting facts are communicated in passing: first, that the Ministry’s Department has been renamed again, this time to the ‘Division of Gifted and Excellent Education’; and second, that a team is still preparing that long-awaited legislation, which is now expected to be passed in 2010.

The treatment of decision points confirms that Israel:

  • Defines the top 1% of each cohort as ‘gifted’, but the next 4% (ie the cut-off is at the fifth percentile) are now called ‘excellent’ rather than ‘outstanding’. This is applied ‘somewhat less stringently’ in rural and disadvantaged areas (perhaps suggesting that widening the identification process has had relatively little effect).
  • The focus remains on ‘general scholastic aptitude (IQ)’ though there is expected to be future emphasis on mathematical, artistic, creative writing and IT-related ability. This again sounds much less developed than the 2005 steering committee recommendations might have suggested would be the case some four years on.
  • Selection is still based on ‘performance on group intelligence tests’ – so the introduction of motivation and creativity criteria has yet to take place.
  • Programmes are provided predominantly for 8-18 year-olds. Provision is offered in four formats recognisable from the previous descriptions: special classes, one-day-a-week enrichment, after-school enrichment and e-learning (ten e-learning courses are again mentioned). We learn that ‘In the future, gifted children will be accepted as “young” research assistants at the universities, working with the faculty in the laboratories’.  In addition, students can also attend university courses and receive academic credit for them. Apart from the Ministry’s courses there are also ‘deeper and/or accelerated and/or entirely new special courses’ (This reference is not explained.)
  • Programmes are designed to nurture ‘independent thinking, creativity, critical thinking, and specific knowledge’. Moreover ‘Israeli policy makers in the area of gifted education declared repeatedly that the ideal gifted adult should demonstrate social commitment to the community, the country, and to human values. In all classes and centres for gifted children, the students are required to participate in community projects’.
  • Most teachers of gifted learners are now said to hold the ‘teachers’ certificate with specialisation in the area of giftedness’ requiring 240 hours of study spread over two years.
  • Surprisingly, ‘no advanced research and evaluation has been conducted in the area of education for gifted children in Israel. Efforts in this area will be doubled or tripled in the next five years’.

The second paper considers:

Recent trends in Israeli gifted education. The steering committee’s policy is outlined. However, the Ministry’s own expectations are also articulated:

‘The main expectations from graduates of gifted education programmes are in the achievement spheres relevant to students’ talents. These expectations include excelling as adults in philosophy, science, technology, art, literature, law, business and other fields. In each field the graduates of the programmes are expected to manifest perseverance, 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, and a broad perspective and awareness of ethical implications. Graduates of programmes for these students should be socially committed people, with a high level of morality and humanity.’

Distinctions between the Israeli approach and that of other countries. This treatment of definitional issues varies from that immediately above, stating that the Ministry recognises:

‘General scholastic ability, usually determined by IQ test; artistic talent, including music, visual arts, dance, and writing arts; specific scholastic fields of excellence, including, for example, mathematics, computers, languages; and talent in sports’.

The text reverts to the former terminology when distinguishing between ‘Gifted’ and ‘Outstanding’ students. However, both the top 1% and the top 5% must ‘also meet the criteria of motivation and creativity above the cohort median’.

The top 5% are to be defined on a local basis again described in terms of  ‘the outstanding students in the school or the locality’(so contradicting some of the reasoning in the article about imbalance in the Tel Aviv gifted population above) while the top 1% are defined on a national basis. The super-gifted are also described in the terms used by the steering committee.

Identification is based on a portfolio approach involving: ‘questionnaires for preschool teachers; observation in preschool; questionnaires for teachers, parents and students; portfolios; achievement tests; school grades; intelligence tests; tools for evaluating motivation; and tools for evaluating creativity’. (So here we are also back to the newer approach.)

Provision is based on a combination of acceleration, extension and enrichment, depending on the needs of the learners, the nature of the programme they are undertaking and the skills of their teachers (this is the steering group’s formulation).

A section on Issues in Israeli gifted education outlines the various frameworks. We learn that:

‘The Ministry of Education sponsors several specialised secondary schools that nurture specific talents such as music, performing arts, visual arts, and sciences in unique programmes. These schools are selective, accepting students who possess an above-average general scholastic ability, and exhibit excellence in a specific field.’

There is also reference to:

‘interdisciplinary youth conferences which focus on concepts, such as time, changes, and relativism from different perspectives. These conferences are open to all gifted and outstanding students.’

It then moves on to discuss teacher training:

Unique pedagogical training is required for teachers who teach these students. Professional development programmes for the teachers of the gifted include treatment of the theoretical perspectives on giftedness and excellence, issues in identifying outstanding and gifted students, cognitive components of excellence and giftedness, social-emotional components of excellence and giftedness, issues in defining and identifying creativity, learning and cognition, models and methods of instruction and nurturing outstanding and gifted students, special populations among outstanding and gifted students, and instructing them as a unique profession. The objective is to reach a point where teachers who wish to teach in these unique programmes must receive in-service training which will grant them a certificate as a master teacher for teaching outstanding and gifted students.’

Finally there is a more general and discursive section on gifted education in mathematics.

The apparent contradictions and differences between these two approximately contemporaneous treatments suggests a system in transition between the old and the new – and perhaps also some confusion during the transition process.

As before a variety of secondary sources add useful detail to the official descriptions.

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Hints of Internecine Struggle

A 2009 article in the Jerusalem Post bears the strapline ‘Pressure on the Education Ministry to expand its definition of child giftedness is only slowly bearing fruit’.

Following a potted history of gifted education this makes a distinction between ‘classic’ definitions of giftedness based on IQ and ‘multi-dimensional’ approaches embracing a wider range of abilities, proceeding to explain some of the confusion we see reflected in the documents reviewed above:

‘Interestingly enough, the debate between this side and the IQ-focused “uni-dimensionalists” has been going on within the Education Ministry itself. Aware of changes in gifted education elsewhere in the world, the ministry has twice accepted the recommendations of panels urging broader definitions of “giftedness,” in 1988 and 1995. For various reasons, including perhaps inertia, nothing came of the recommendations, and the ministry has continued to define giftedness solely by IQ. That may be about to change, though, according to Shlomit Rachmel, head of the Department for Gifted Children. “We are now on the verge of a big change. We have developed new screening tools that will include above-average motivation and creativity. Since 2005, we have been developing a new definition that defines the gifted student as one who has cognitive skills, motivation and creativity at the highest percentile.” Those changes, according to Rachmel, are set to be implemented in about three years.’

So, in 2009, following four years work, the Ministry predicts that the new system will be in place by 2012, having taken seven years to introduce. Slow progress indeed.

In the meantime, the IQ-based approach remains in force. As noted above, it is based on a process conducted by the Henrietta Szold Institute, Israel’s national institute for research in the behavioural sciences.

The first screening exam is administered to all children in their primary schools, usually in 2nd grade The hour-long test contains multiple choice tests in maths and reading. The top 15% of scorers take a second battery of IQ tests at local centres administered by the Institute. This identifies the ‘gifted’ with IQs above 135 and the ‘super-gifted’ with IQs above 155. Students can take tests to enter programmes at a later stage.

Rachmel estimates that, by this point, there are about 15,000 learners in the Ministry’s programmes and explains how the three main frameworks are implemented:

‘All over the country, we have the same screening process, the same definition of gifted and the same frameworks. But there are localities that have their own preferences. But it’s always a dialogue with us. Some localities prefer the pull-out programme – the one-day-a-week enrichment programme. Other localities prefer the full programme – the self-contained classes. Pull-out programmes are most popular at the elementary levels, and self-contained classes are most popular for junior and senior high levels.’

The article also reveals that the 240-hour two-year in-service training provision for teachers selected to teach gifted classes by their principals, is conducted at five centres around the country: Tel-Aviv University, Ben Gurion University, the University of Haifa, Oranim College and Gordon College.

This training is also available to specialist teachers conducting the enrichment programmes, while non-teacher ‘experts’ appear to be trained locally.

Criticism of the gifted programme as a whole is summed up thus:

‘Perhaps the major bone of contention, as previously noted, has been the ministry’s insistence upon defining giftedness exclusively on the basis of IQ. Other criticisms are variously social, economic, political and cultural. The process of identifying and selecting gifted children has been attacked for the relatively high percentage of girls and low percentage of Arabs and “peripheral” groups, like Ethiopians. Other critics claim that while gifted education programmes may be scattered around the country, two-thirds of them are concentrated in Tel Aviv and the country’s centre. Gifted education has also been disparaged as education for the rich, with critics identifying a variety of programmes in affluent North Tel Aviv, while finding none in the city’s impoverished south.’

There is also criticism of the fact that the system focuses over-much on excellence in STEM subjects:

‘However multi-talented or multi-gifted a child might be when he enters the system, he tends to be focused on a very narrow range of technical fields when he comes out the other end.’

Objections to the terminology are articulated by Hezki Arieli, Director of the Israel Center for Excellence through Education (which runs the Israel Arts and Science Academy (IASA)):

‘Arieli says, “We deal more with ‘excellence’ than with ‘giftedness.’ We are talking about excelling students that are bright, motivated and highly-abled. We are not measuring it by IQ. For us it is much more about proven ability as well as high motivation and curiosity.”’

And also by Ra’anan Avital, CEO of the Israel Center for Youth Leadership, which runs the Havruta High School for Leadership and Culture:

‘”The Education Ministry’s definition of ‘gifted’ is an IQ of 135 and above. What we’re looking for are things like motivation, ability, leadership potential and other things that someone with a very high IQ wouldn’t necessarily have.”’

But the story ends on an upbeat note:

‘Despite the confusing and sometimes contesting variety of frameworks, programs, schools and educational philosophies, if your kid has the “right stuff,” there is probably something here for him or her. One thing is certain, though. If you grew up in a country where you were told “you’re too damned smart for your own good,” you have come to the right country to raise your smart children.’

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Haifa Port courtesy of Chris Yunker

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Too Much STEM

The reference to an over-emphasis on STEM apparently originates in a study by Inbal Shani from the University of Haifa referenced briefly in another article. Shani surveyed 800 gifted and other students to assess psychological differences between them.

She found that, while gifted learners have higher self-esteem in respect of their academic achievement, they have lower self-esteem in relation to physical and social skills. Moreover:

‘“Society identifies the gifted child with high intelligence and is often hasty to identify this intelligence with specific subjects, especially exact or prestigious sciences,” says Shani. “The maturing children are quick to adopt this identity, renouncing the process of building self-identity.

“It is a paradox,” she adds. “It is the gifted – who are often multi-talented – who tend to limit the realization of those very talents into specific fields. Instead of selecting from many options open to them, they limit themselves to applied or prestigious subjects.”’

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The Experience of Gifted Minorities

Another article focuses humorously on the experience of being parent of a gifted Arab girl in East Jerusalem:

‘The school year was getting closer, but attempts to locate the Department for Gifted Children in East Jerusalem proved futile…We learned that apparently there once was a programme for gifted children in East Jerusalem but it was discontinued and then renewed, but it’s not clear where it is and what exactly it does…In contrast to the Arabs, the gifted Jews have a school of their own, a detailed Web site listing the classes planned for the coming year, the names of the teachers, an adviser, a principal, a motto and above all an address…

Meanwhile, on the other side, those 20 Arab children will apparently receive a room for one day during the high-school vacations, on condition of course that the school isn’t destroyed before the beginning of the school year…

 I made a brief phone call to the school for gifted Jews and I received a polite and courteous response informing me that yes, Arab pupils who received the notice from the Ministry of Education can study with the Jews. Now as a mentally healthy father, I considered what would guarantee a better future for my daughter: gifted Jews or gifted Arabs? After all, what is the definition of a gifted Arab child from East Jerusalem? Someone who will be asked to show identification to the Border Police before he is of legal age? Jews and being gifted go together. No question about it. They probably test the Arabs a year later for security reasons. Probably during the year that the child missed they taught all the shits from third grade the secrets of the atom. Never mind, I thought to myself as I registered her for the gifted Jews’ programme, in the final analysis I have always been in favour of conventional weapons.’

On a similar theme an October 2010 article reveals that a new test is to be introduced to identify gifted learners of Ethiopian origin. Instead of the Szold Institute, the identification process will be undertaken by Feuerstein’s International Center for the Enhancement of Learning Potential (ICELP).

This is because:

‘The ministry has acknowledged that the tests generally used to identify gifted children are culturally biased as they depend on the students’ knowledge of Hebrew.’

The report says that the Education Ministry approached Rabbi Feuerstein’s Center a year previously to seek their help. The plan was for about 300 Ethiopian children in Grades 2-3 to complete initial tests, 130 of whom would then be assessed further with about 60 accepted into gifted enrichment programmes and, subsequently, gifted classes. However, although the project should have been underway, ‘the agreement between the ministry and Feuerstein’s centre has not been finalised’.

A subsequent article in December 2010 says that the Ministry of Education had planned a programme to identify ‘a few dozen’ gifted Ethiopian children from amongst 300 children in grades 2 and 3 spread across four communities.

The learners would then attend separate workshops and enrichment classes.

This article claims that the decision to go ahead had been taken six months previously (in Summer 2010). However, for some reason, this partnership with ICELP required ‘special authorisation’ which was unaccountably delayed. Testing was to have been undertaken in early September 2010, so the programme could begin after school holidays.

There is brief reference to a pilot programme on the Feuerstein Institute website, so it presumably proceeded eventually:

Pilot programme for the identification and empowerment of gifted Ethiopian pupils in the schools: This project is designed to identify gifted pupils from the Ethiopian community and provide them with suitable cognitive empowerment, thus enabling them to bridge the cultural differences and participate in the national programme for gifted students.’

This is not the only provision for gifted young Ethiopians. An organisation called the Ariela Foundation operates a MAOF programme provides personalised support for learners through to university entrance (described in Part Three).

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Provision for the ‘Super-Gifted’

An article which appeared in October 2009 refers to the introduction of a programme for the ‘super-gifted’ cohort said to have been designed by the President of the Weizmann Institute.

Fifteen students from grades 10 and 11 receive personal training from a ‘world-renowned’ scientist provided on one day every two weeks at the institution at which the scientist is employed, and are brought together as a group three times a year. According to the report, the students were identified through teacher recommendation from amongst those with an IQ of 155+.

Also from this period, there is an Executive Summary of a study of the first cohort of the Legacy Heritage Mentoring Programme, a ‘national mentoring programme to identify and nurture highly gifted adolescents from all the regions of Israel’, supported by the Legacy Heritage Fund and administered by the Szold Institute.

This has some similarities with the programme described above and may indeed be the same. Mentors worked on their area of expertise with their allocated students for a five hour session every two weeks. Four conferences for all participants were also held during the year.

The first, held at Weizmann, enabled the participants to establish relationships with their mentors and agree a ‘contract’. The other three involved discussion of ‘difficulties and over-burden’ and subject-specific ethical dilemmas. A final conference will be held in December 2010, sponsored by the Minister of Education. Participants will present their work and parents and mentors will also relay their experiences of the project.

All participants developed a product, such as a research project or musical composition. The study reports that 14 of the 17 participants completed the programme. The three dropouts cited overload as the cause. Most of the 14 felt the programme had improved their knowledge and independent learning skills. The majority felt it had helped them to deal with related ethical dilemmas.Overall the programme is judged successful.

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Professional Development Reforms

An article from 2010 by Vidergor and Eilam is available online within Volume 25(2) of Gifted and Talented International. Called ‘Curriculum Transformation: The Israeli Teacher Certification in Gifted Education’, it explores differences between the formulation of the training programme and its delivery.

The introduction reveals some of the thinking behind the planned legislation (which has yet to be enacted):

‘The steering committee…has asserted that teaching and education of gifted constitute a unique pedagogical domain that requires a special framework of training. Therefore, they stressed the need for a legislative procedure that will result in The Gifted Act, which will establish special certification and professional development programmes intended for both regular school teachers, and teachers who teach gifted students.  As a result, five centres were established in Israel (prior to completion of legislative procedure) offering a certification programme for the first time.’

The Ministry assigned nine coordinators (two per centre and one for the fifth) and, except in the final case, one was responsible for the first year of training, the other for the second year.

A co-ordinators’ forum, including an academic consultant and national programme co-ordinator, meets with the Ministry each month to monitor progress but ‘the Ministry has not yet worked out a role description for coordinators’.

The steering committee ruled that:

‘Training should focus on pedagogical knowledge to cater for the cognitive and emotional needs of gifted and talented children. Training will focus on teachers getting acquainted with theoretical issues in gifted education in general, as well as the specific Israeli experience.  It is suggested that working procedures would be devised bearing the unique needs of the gifted population in mind, and guided reflective practicum would be included in programmes.’

The programme is intended for teachers holding a first degree and is expected to provide additional certification, with ‘in the near future’ the option of a Masters degree. It will combine theory and practice in four distinct stages:

‘(a) acquaintance with theoretical aspects of teaching gifted like: definition of giftedness, identification, cognitive and social aspects, brain research and learning processes, characteristics and development of gifted child, curriculum planning, teaching strategies, assessment, and characteristics of unique frameworks;

(b) acquaintance with the field involving observations and interviews followed by discussions. This stage will be introduced while studying first stage theoretical aspects;

(c) designing and formalising suitable working strategies guided by professional and expert teachers focusing on  cognitive, social and emotional needs of gifted students; and

(d) supervised practicum followed by team and individual discussions reflecting on teaching experience.’

An interview with Rachmel confirms that the training was developed on the basis of a review of similar provision worldwide. The five programmes were established over a three year period and:

‘a decision was made in 2009 that completing a certification programme will be obligatory for new teachers of gifted, or those with less than 10 years of experience, by the year 2014.’

Monitoring through the forum led to programmes being ‘reviewed and changed constantly’. A number of findings follow about the difference between design and delivery and a series of practical recommendations are offered.

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Bahai Garden courtesy of chaim zvi

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The Current Position: 2011 onwards

The first substantive source about the current state of play is another English language paper on the Ministry’s website ‘To Which We Aspire: Unique Pedagogies for the Gifted and Excellent’ which is liked to a conference given in April 2011.

This begins with a description of the work of what is once more termed the ‘Division of Gifted and Outstanding Students’ (presumably having completed its flirtation with ‘Excellence’ as an alternative to ‘Outstanding’).

The Division’s vision and ‘image of our graduates’ repeats material above. This is followed by a set of six broad aims:

  • ‘To instil and lead a culture which places excellence as a central value.
  •  Providing a response to the special needs of the community of gifted and outstanding students, and to bring about a maximization and full expression of their talents and abilities within the framework of the public education system.
  • Development of the cognitive aspect of the students – developing varied thinking skills at a high level, and the skills needed in the consumption of knowledge and its creation. In addition, instilling and developing modes of thinking for the purpose of handling complex problems and situations of uncertainty.
  • Developing the emotional, value and social aspect amongst the students – development of tools for expressing feelings, assertiveness and self-esteem. Development of social involvement and leadership skills. Development of inter-personal communication, the ability to work in team and to recognise the value of the group. Development of personal and social responsibility and sensitivity to moral issues.
  • Management of pedagogic knowledge including up-to date materials and professional literature and
  • Initiation of practical research.’

The Division’s activities are divided into seven broad areas:

Operating a system for identification and referral of gifted learners

Operating the ‘frameworks’ for gifted learners – six are listed:

  • Local and national centres for gifted and outstanding students
  • Classes for gifted and outstanding students within normal schools
  • A virtual school  for gifted and outstanding students in lower secondary schools, provided in Hebrew and Arabic
  • Guidance by academic mentors for the ‘super-gifted’
  • Symposia for students from classes for gifted and outstanding students
  • National scientific conferences

Operating special programmes for outstanding students. Four of these are mentioned:

  • ‘Amirim’ (see above) to foster learners in primary and lower secondary schools and develop school-wide excellence
  • After-school enrichment activities
  • Programmes to integrate ‘high school students in academic studies at university’
  • School- based maths and science programmes

Professional development activity through ‘academic programmes’, ‘professional development programmes’ and ‘special training for students in teachers colleges’ plus publishing materials and running conferences

Programme design and evaluation and budgeting

Provision for ‘special populations’– described as involving coordination of the identification of immigrant and bilingual students and those with learning difficulties, and also developing programmes for Ethiopian children

Foreign relations, including collaborating with partners worldwide, offering courses on Israeli methods for overseas visitors and hosting study visits.

 Research and development, which mentions several new areas of work including:

  •  Setting core curriculum guidelines for gifted programmes
  • Developing social science programmes for outstanding with subject superintendents.
  • Creating a database to support research into effectiveness of the overall programme
  • Developing and piloting programmes for highly able children at  kindergarten
  • Developing ‘pedagogic standards’ for programmes
  • Supporting outstanding trainees in teachers’ colleges
  • A ‘Future Scientists’ programme initiated by the Israeli President
  • Creating ‘virtual databases’

The description of the virtual school makes clear that participants now select one course per semester consisting of 12 study units and a face-to-face meeting.

The options for integration of university study are provided either at Open University Branches or at Tel-Aviv University. Participants can secure credit for all or part of an undergraduate degree which, in the latter case, they complete following military service.

The ‘super gifted’ mentoring programme is the one we have encountered above: students are paired with ‘world-renowned mentors’ who guide their research and train them in ‘areas of knowledge ‘. Mentees meet mentors fortnightly and participants meet together three times a year.

Three specific types of enrichment programmes are mentioned:

  • ‘Community Anchor’ – designed to support the top 20% in each primary school selected on their teachers’ recommendations.
  • ‘Amirim’ again for participants selected by their teachers which utilises the  Enrichment Triad Model: ‘the students choose courses in various areas of knowledge, and an additional course in the social-value area. The courses are written by the teachers in the school and are taught by them. These teachers undergo three years of training in teaching outstanding students.’
  • Special schools for the arts:

‘The fostering of gifted and outstanding students in the fields of the arts takes place in special schools in Israel that specialise in one of the arts: music, dance, plastic arts, cinema and theatre. The schools accept students from all over the country. The studies include focusing on the area of art in which the student excels, general studies mandated by the Ministry of Education, as well as enrichment studies combining the various disciplines. The study frameworks place emphasis on creativity, the development of artistic skills, giving personal expression and development of critical thinking. The students are also guided in additional areas, including: dealing with competition, the development of healthy ambitiousness, deepening social values and encouraging contributing to the community.’

A second key source is one of the chapters in ‘International Horizons of Talent Support 1’ published by the Hungarian Genius Programme. Israeli coverage is on pages 121-144.

A few interesting additional details are supplied about the wider development of Israeli gifted education. It is clear that identification is still undertaken almost exclusively through intelligence tests even though:

‘major efforts have been made over recent years by the Ministry to include motivation factors and other personality characteristics into the identification of talent’.

The second round of IQ tests – the test battery measures ‘linguistic, mathematical and spatial abilities, abstract thinking, memory, analytical and generalising skills’.

However, Arab students have undertaken different tests since 2009, designed and administered by the Karni Institute enabling them and other immigrant children to be tested in their mother tongues.

Because early identification is disadvantageous to those who are late developers, another assessment is also available before entry to upper secondary school – a cognitive test generated by the Karni Institute. The ICELP assessment of Ethiopian children is also mentioned.

A new statistic is provided:

‘Talent development managed by the state reached 12,538 children in 2009, 63% of them were instructed in pull-out centres, 21% in special classes, 8% in distance education and 3% via acceleration (e.g., university studies started earlier)’

But the chapter is devoted mostly to the work of the regional ‘pull-out’ centres providing enrichment activities. It says there are 53 of these (up from 52 on previous counts). Fourteen of these are solely for Arab learners. Altogether they support over 6,000 learners.

Classes at the centres are typically 75 minutes long. For the day a week in-school sessions, the day starts at 8.30am and involves three or four lessons. There are typically 12-18 learners per class.

Although there are no examinations, plans are afoot to accredit learning undertaken in the centres.

Centres are free to determine their own courses, but must observe the core curriculum recently introduced by the Ministry. Further details are not provided.

Most teachers are part-time and may work at several different centres. The Ministry issued a decree in 2010 requiring all teachers working in the centres or in gifted classes in schools to have the postgraduate qualification, with effect from 2014/15. Teachers with at least 10 years’ experience are exempt however. (This may be the long-awaited legislation referred to in previous sections.)

A ‘pull-out’ centre at Karmiel in northern Israel is reviewed in more depth. The centre serves 290 learners in Grades 3-9. Of these, 190 attend the school-time sessions for gifted children (including 50 Druze students taught separately in Arabic) while 100 come to the after-school sessions for outstanding learners. There is no transfer between these groups, unless fresh testing supports the case.

Karmiel is one of six centres in the Northern Region. There are monthly regional meetings and an annual 3-day training course for centre directors.

The gifted provision has been in place for 15 years but that for outstanding learners was introduced only in 2008. Funding comes principally from the state and the town, but parents pay a contribution fixed across all such centres.

Karmiel takes children from some 30 schools. It busses children to and from the sessions. Relationships seem stronger with parents than they are with the schools, though efforts are made by centre staff in both quarters.

.

A Presidential Programme

The Israeli President’s Future Scientists and Inventors initiative is briefly outlined in this document. It makes clear that the purpose is to increase the flow of talented young people into STEM-related careers. It was introduced in 2009 to:

‘Promote science and technology excellence in Israel, while contributing to narrowing the country’s social and economic gaps.’

Programme planning and development was undertaken by the Rashi Foundation

A 4-year pilot began in July 2009 with 50 students, but the intention is to reach 600 students, with 100 students at each of six academic institutions involved.

Participating students are recruited from the top 0.5% of students in 9th Grade, identified through psychometric testing focusing on ‘scientific and cognitive skills’.

The document is not very clear about programme content, though it reveals that courses are being established at the Technion and Weizmann Institute of Science.

The steering committee for the Programme has established core objectives:

  • At least 80% of graduates will be admitted to the Israeli Defence Force’s Academic Cadets or to one of its elite technology or intelligence units.
  • At least 90% of graduates will successfully earn an undergraduate science or engineering degree while the remainder will graduate in other fields such as medicine and education.
  • At least 90% of those who achieve a first degree will continue to complete ‘a graduate or post-graduate degree in a related subject’.
  • Within ten years of completing the programme, at least 80% of participants will be employed as scientists, engineers or researchers.
  • Within 10 years of completion, at least 80% of participants will be involved as a volunteer in a social or community project.
  • Within 15 years of completion, at least 30% of participants will be ‘start-upentrepreneurs in the high-tech industry’.

More information is available on the Rashi Foundation website. There is a 4-year course beginning at the end of Grade 8 and continuing until the end of Grade 12. Each year there are 20 weeks of courses and workshops, holiday schools and a 3-week industrial placement during summer.

Participants undertake:

  • Additional advanced studies in physics, biotechnology, computer science, electronics, robotics, biology, chemistry, aeronautics, nanotechnology and applied mathematics.
  • Practical training to develop innovation and invention skills including teamwork, creative thinking, project planning and management.
  • Team work to solve real-world problems.

The aspiration to expand to 600 participants is scaled back here to adding ‘200 students over the next two years’.

This 2011 article covers the inauguration ceremony for the programme.

.

Flamingo in a Salt Lake 2 courtesy of Menashri

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Further Support for Gifted Immigrants

Volume 26(1) of Gifted and Talented International contains a 2011 paper on Gifted Immigrants and Refugees in Israel by Rosemarin which focuses on those from Ethiopia and Russia.

It notes that, in 2005, just one of 32,000 Ethiopian students was identified as gifted. Hence in 2008 the Ministry announced a pilot programme after which new identification procedures would be established. However, the paper says such procedures are not yet in place. It notes that, by contrast, many more Russian immigrants are highly motivated and academically successful.

.

‘Super-Gifted’ Graduates

In 2012 a rash of stories appeared about the first graduates from the ‘super-gifted’ programme. This is an example. It provides little useful information other than that 18 students completed the programme.

Interestingly, the Summer 2012 edition of Gifted Education Press Quarterly (pages 7-13) features an article about ethical issues by Hanna David of Tel Aviv University (part of the Advisory Panel for this periodical) which criticises the exposure of participants in this programme to media publicity:

 ‘…The wide exposure of these “super-gifted” children included personal and familial private details of the 14 identified youths. Details were given about their parents’ marital status, many of which they would rather have kept unrevealed, the financial situation of the family, the religious views of each parent, or the ethnic origin of the children (all minors). These students were exposed not only unethically, but also to such a level that would have been considered illegal in most countries…

The misuse of the children’s names and photos, and the unexpected way in which some of their families were exposed in the media are unethical… Even the use of the term “super-gifted” is highly problematic… all researchers have been quite convinced that using this term might have a negative influence!’

This prompted a brief critical response from Rachmel in the Autumn 2012 edition which throws some further light on the operation of her Department:

‘The article is one sided, full of inaccuracies and does not reflect the policies and practices of identifying and nurturing gifted students by the Ministry of Education. For instance, the area of giftedness does have legal constraints and rules which are specified by the Director General of the  Ministry of Education and was revised in 2010.’

Furthermore, the policies of the Division for Gifted and Outstanding Students are designed together with a steering committee, comprised of experts from    the major academic institutions in Israel and professionals from the field, including experts in psychometrics (Professor Baruch Nevo), in counselling  (Professor Zipi Shechtman), and in various curricular areas. Furthermore,  every gifted programme has a psychologist or a counselor on staff who specialises in working with gifted students and their family.’

David’s counter response is interesting because of the suggestion it contains that drop-out rates from the Ministry’s programmes are unacceptably high:

‘In some of the gifted classes operating 6-days a week, less than 50% of the children invited actually participate. In the enrichment programmes, the dropout rate is quite high and increases every year. For example in my home town, Rishon Leziyon, about 200 grade 3 students participate in the class operating once a week for the gifted, but more than 80% of them drop out by grade 9.’

 

Translated from the Ministry’s Website

Because there is nothing in English on the very latest position, the information below is gleaned from the Hebrew pages on the Ministry’s website, as viewed through Google Translate. Given this source, some inaccuracy may have crept into the detail that follows.

The list of Divisional responsibilities is broadly unchanged, but there is one new addition – affirmative action programmes for gifted girls and associated research.

There is also reference to a pilot programme supporting talented children in kindergarten which operates in three locations. It seems that an evaluation is in progress which will determine whether such provision will be rolled out.

A statistical table is published showing participation in different elements of the programme, presumably as of 2012:

There are now 12,895 gifted learners within the programme (the table says 12,705 which may suggest that some learners are undertaking two or more different elements):

  • 513 students  are in gifted classes in primary schools – there are 21 such classes located in five schools;
  • 1,036 students are in gifted classes in lower secondary schools and 1,017 in upper secondary schools making 2,053 in all. It looks as though there are 26 classes in lower secondary schools and 43 classes in upper secondary schools;
  • The number of Gifted Centres now totals 55 – there is a list here – 8,548 learners attend the centres – 6,711 attend 38 Jewish sector centres and 1,837 attend 17 Arab sector centres;
  • 15 students are participating in the mentoring programme for ‘super gifted’ learners;
  • 800 students participate in the virtual school, 680 divided between five courses in the Jewish sector, and 120 divided between two courses in the Arab sector.

There are 32,392 outstanding learners within the programme:

  • 5,325 attend the gifted centres;
  • 400 are involved in the pilot Kindergarten provision;
  • 20,000 participate in the Amirim project and 108 in an associated Amirim ICT project (see Part Three);
  • 5,800 are within an Excellence 2000 maths and science programme (see Part Three);
  • 44 a part of a project connected with Feuerstein (which may be the one for Ethiopian learners)

In addition, 184 teachers have undertaken the full gifted education training programme at six centres and a further 1,019 teachers and other staff have received training (the majority for involvement in the Amirim Programme).

 

Here ends Part Two of this post. Part Three outlines several initiatives, including those mentioned in the last section, which have not yet featured in this review, as well as several key organisations and institutions that deliver aspects of Israel’s national offer for gifted learners.

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GP

November 2012

 

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