Gifted Education in Israel: Part Three

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This is the final part of a full-scale 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.
  • Part Two considered how Israeli gifted education has developed over the last five years and its condition today.

Part Three takes a closer look at some specific initiatives and institutions that play a prominent role in the Israeli national programme as it is now.

It begins by describing Amirim (which featured towards the end of Part Two), moving on to look at mostly university-led courses in maths and science.

It also reviews a handful of important services supporting disadvantaged gifted learners and a couple of unique Israeli programmes that are not strictly domestic gifted education, but are closely related to it.

There is a substantive section devoted to the activities of the Israel Center for Excellence in Education, including the Israel Arts and Science Academy, which falls under its control.

This is followed by an overview of other specialist schools and organisations and various providers of professional support.

Finally, I offer a personal assessment of the impact of the full panoply of Israeli provision.

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Amirim

Amirim is based on Renzulli’s Enrichment Triad Model. The programme covers primary, lower and upper secondary schools, exposing learners to content not found in the normal school curriculum.

The aims are to:

  • Support excellence in schools, teachers and learners;
  • Develop an ethos and culture that supports the achievement of excellence;
  • Increase educators’ capacity to develop excellence in learners; and
  • Develop activities that enable learners and educators to set and achieve targets for excellence.

Each district is advised how many schools can participate in the programme, but the schools are selected locally. Each school appoints a co-ordinator and teachers to participate. The teachers undertake a training programme.

The Amirim ICT project may be what is described by another source. If so, this is led by the Centre for Technology Education and Cultural Diversity (TEC). The Division for Gifted Students jointly funds the project with the Kibbutzim College of Education Technology and the Arts.

Around 100 learners from Grades 5 and 6 are involved, drawn from nine schools around the country, including Jews, Arabs and Druze. They communicate through a social network and work in multicultural teams. A face-to-face conference is held for all participants at the end of the project.

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Programmes for Gifted Learners in Maths and Science

There are many different providers of programmes for students gifted in maths and science, several being accelerative programmes offered by universities.

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Tel Aviv University

There is a brief English language description of the maths provision at Tel Aviv University dating from 2008, while the Hebrew web page is here.

A set of Acceleration Programmes in Mathematics (APM) began as early as 1970. Pupils aged 13-15 were selected for participation by their teachers. Many of the participants completed an undergraduate degree, some even a postgraduate degree, by the age of 18.

In 1987 the University began to offer a course for 12-17 year-olds called ‘Mathematics for Excellent Students’ with two parts, each taking four hours a week over a single semester. Students completing both parts were entitled to begin the first year undergraduate course at the University.

Tel Aviv University also hosts a Dov Lautman Unit for Science Oriented Youth established in the School of Education in 1981, which has an ambitious programme of activities relatively little of which is described in English. At least one receives support from the EU.

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Bar Ilan University

Bar Ilan offers an English language page about its support for gifted learners (the Hebrew site is here.).

It provides an enrichment course for learners in Grades 6 and 7:

‘intended for students who are interested in studying exciting, stimulating subjects in mathematics, most of which are not included in the regular study programme in schools; and also as preparation for the programme for youth gifted in mathematics.’

Participants attend the course for two hours a week in the afternoons, after school.

The gifted programme is for students in Grades 8-10 and has the following aims:

  • Preparing students for the matriculation examination in maths at the end of the 10th grade.
  • Integrating 11th and 12th grade students Bar-Ilan’s undergraduate maths courses.
  • Enabling students to complete their degree within 3 years, ending one year after the 12th grade, requiring a year-long postponement of military service.

Participants attend a four-hour session weekly. The programme now runs at 20 different centres. Some 2,300 students were enrolled in 2006/07 (more recent data is not provided) and 60 teachers are involved.

Some 1,300 students completed the course as 10th grade students ‘in the last five years’. An online article describes the experience of one participant.

This programme seems to be slightly different to another Bar-Ilan project, also described online, which is called ‘A Fostering Programme of “Doctoral Students for Math”’.

This has as its objective the development of:

‘leadership in math among youth in development towns and suburbs who excel in their high school studies by accelerating them toward their university studies in the sciences and mathematics.’

Participants are selected in Grade 7 and during Grades 8-10 they undertake 30 three-hour sessions a year based in special centres:

‘The programme provides several routes:

(a) Matriculation examination at the end of the tenth grade and continuation of studies at Bar-Ilan University;

(b) admission to Bar-Ilan University to continue studying maths with the matriculation in mathematics determined by the marks received in the two core courses at the university — “Linear Algebra” and “Infinitismal Arithmetic”;

(c) admission to Bar-Ilan University to continue study in maths with the matriculation exam coming during the 11th or 12th grade or

(d) return to school to take the maths matriculation exam at the end of the 11th year and continuing studies at Bar-Ilan in the 12th year.

‘Infinitismal Arithmetic’ is a one-year course comprising four hours of lectures and two hours of ‘drill’ weekly.

In the period between Grades 11 and 12, students can take a special concentrated five week course for four hours a day ‘Introduction to Grouping Theory and Analysis’” This is equivalent to a full year of study. They may then:

‘complete the baccalaureate degree in mathematics as a primary subject (24 annual hours of lecturing and 10 hours of drilling), meeting all the requirements in two years and, in some instances, even less time.’

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Technion

At Technion, the Israel Institute of Technolgy, in Haifa, the Mathematics Department hosts the Noam Outstanding Youth Center which offers:

  • A Maths Summer Camp for 20 outstanding students in Grades 9-12, selected on the basis of school recommendations and interviews. Participants are divided into four groups and study number theory and encryption.
  • A summer workshop on ‘Games, Luck and Probability’ for learners in Grades 6-8 at lower secondary schools.
  • The ‘Grossman Math Olympics’, a competition for students in Grades 10-12 as well as those undertaking military service. There are cash prizes and  tuition fee waivers for those who choose to take up a place at the Technion.
  • A ‘Math Riddles Course’ which uses many questions posed in Maths Olympiads, open to adults with an interest as well as upper secondary and university students.
  • ‘Math Circles’, a weekly after school enrichment class for lower and upper secondary students, run by Technion undergraduates and postgraduates.
  • ‘From a High School to the Technion’, another programme allowing students in Grades 10-12 to study courses contributing to an undergraduate degree and to be admitted to the University on that basis.

Another international summer programme is run via World ORT which recently announced that it is launching a $35m ‘Anieres II World ORT Engineering/Technology Scholarship Programme for ten annual intakes of around 60 disadvantaged teenagers:

‘The students will enjoy a special residential programme for the final three years (four years in the case of those from overseas) at school, including extra-curricular studies at the internationally renowned Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and, if necessary, ulpan. Those who make the grade in final exams will study engineering at the Technion for four years with the added benefit that they will receive academic credits, which can be applied towards their degree, for all courses successfully completed in the high school component of the programme.’

I believe ‘ulpan’ is a Hebrew language-learning programme. The press release says $15m of the $35m cost has been supplied by a philanthropist and $18m by the Israeli Government. The remaining $2m is to be paid by students. It is not clear how disadvantaged learners will be able to find around $3,500 each.

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Ben-Gurion University

The Ilan Ramon Youth Physics Center is based in the Physics Department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and provides opportunities for about 8,000 learners in the southern part of Israel.

Established in 2007, it is administered as part of the wider Madarom Programme a partnership between the Ministry of Education and the Rashi Foundation. One aim is to support and develop gifted learners. There is a strong emphasis on astronomy – the centre is named after Israel’s first astronaut.

One element is designed to foster scientific leadership in astronomy and physics. Each year some 150 upper secondary students receive leadership training and training in science education. They subsequently serve as guides and counsellors for other activities undertaken by the Center. They meet regularly as a cohort throughout the school year.

Once ex-participants have completed their military service they qualify for academic scholarships and act as tutors to the next cadre of participants in the programme.

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Weizmann Institute

The Weizmann Institute of Science has an educational arm, the Davidson Institute (so-called because it is supported by a $35m endowment from Bill Davidson.

This is not to be confused with the entirely separate Davidson Institute in the US, founded by Bob and Jan Davidson.)

Davidson provides a range of after-school courses in maths and science, some of them designated specifically for high achievers. Its ‘Science by Mail’ and ‘Math by Mail’ courses are available internationally and targeted at ‘talented and curious children in Grades 3-9’. Participants study four in-depth topics each year.

It also offers the annual Bessie Lawrence International Summer Science Institute (ISSI), a month-long programme for 70 highly-talented recent upper secondary school graduates, plus an annual safecracking tournament for teams of 17-18 year-olds who must build a safe that only they can open.

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Haifa Sunrise courtesy of chaim zvi

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Open University

It is also possible to take courses with the Israeli Open University while still at upper secondary school. These are courses originally designed for undergraduates and, unusually, are not confined to maths and science.

In principle at least, students can enter courses in maths, science and engineering, but also in the humanities ( Jewish studies, history, literature, linguistics, music, art history, cinema, philosophy) and the social sciences (political science and international relations, sociology, communication, education, psychology, economics, management and accounting).

Courses are offered at one of three levels:

  • Open level – general introductory courses which may require prior knowledge obtained in upper secondary school;
  • Standard level – subject-specific courses which build on open courses and
  • Advanced level – comparable with third-year undergraduate courses at other universities. Some require preparation of a paper during or after the course.

Upper secondary students may undertake Open University study in normal classes alongside adult students. Others may be part of dedicated study groups or study centres where numbers are sufficient to permit this.

The website says that, while hundreds of upper secondary students undertake Open University courses, only a handful have completed an undergraduate degree, while a ‘few dozen’ have managed the first half of an undergraduate degree.

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Programmes Supporting Disadvantaged Gifted Populations

Ariela Foundation – Maof and Star

The Ariela Foundation supports learners from the Ethiopian minority, of which there are some 120,000 resident in Israel, targeting:

  • The top 20% of lower and upper secondary school students from Tel Aviv,Jaffa, Gedera and Ness Tziona through the Star Programme and
  • Learners who demonstrate high ability in one or more fields through the Maof Assistance Programme, a ‘nationwide initiative to promote excellence amongst outstanding youngsters through ongoing personal mentoring and long term tailor made assistance’.

Participants may join the programme in primary school and continue until university. The support provided to each participant varies but might include: financial aid, a scholarship, tutoring, coaching and mentoring, access to after-school enrichment and guidance and counselling. All participants undertake voluntary work.

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College for All

Despite its name, College for All runs centres:

‘Throughout Israel’s economically distressed areas for children who possess potential for individual and academic excellence. College for All aspires to nurture and promote excellence in children and youth with social, family and economic circumstances that would otherwise hamper their potential for success.’ 

College for All was established in 1999 and now supports 25 centres throughout the country and over 1,500 learners. It employs 500 or 600 undergraduate students (the sources differ on the number) who teach learners once a week, receiving a scholarship or academic credit in return. Fifty qualified teachers are also involved.

The College website claims that Israel experiences the widest social gap between rich and poor amongst developed western countries. There are over 800,000 children and young people living below the poverty line, of which 100,000 (so 12.5%) have ‘unbounded potential for excellence’. This target group seems to comprise those identified as high achievers at primary schools.

Learners with high potential benefit from:

‘A top quality, socially-minded curriculum over the course of 10 years – from 3rd to 12th grade – thus assisting them in reaching their full potential, broadening their horizons, developing their academic capabilities and deepening their social conscience.’

Every learner has access to 16 hours a week of tuition in maths, English, IT and verbal skills as well as homework support. The website mentions:

‘Special classes in mathematical theories; English and language skills; science and nature; study skills; creative writing; environmental studies and literacy, as well as creative extracurricular programmes including: comics; art; photography; music; theatre and personal and group empowerment activities.’

Participants also benefit from social and cultural enrichment activities and are expected to serve as volunteers within their local communities. From lower secondary school onwards there is a personalised approach designed to help each learner ‘overcome their personal obstacles and difficulties’. Undergraduates act as mentors and role models.

The website claims as evidence of success the fact that its ‘first class of graduates achieved a 97 point average on their high school matriculation exams’. Nothing is said of subsequent cohorts.

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Two Unique Programmes

Although strictly speaking outside the scope of this post, I want to devote some attention to two fascinating initiatives that are closely linked to the national gifted education programme.

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Talpiot

Talpiot is the Israeli armed forces’ talent development programme, launched in 1979.

Israeli students completing high school are required to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, typically for two years (women) or three years (men). The IDF tests all students in Grades 11-12 to inform decisions about placement.

Those who score in the top 5% are invited to undertake a programme that combines basic military training, officer training and completion of a degree. Applicants are sifted and up to 200 attend a final selection process overseen by former graduates.

According to Wikipedia, Talpiot cadets undertake a science degree in either physics and maths or computer science at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. Academic study is interspersed with field training in different parts of the IDF. The total course takes three years and four months. Graduates are ranked first lieutenant and progress to specialist positions. They undertake six additional years of service.

The annual intake is said to be around 50 cadets, but this November 2011 report from IDF’s own website says that the current class of 40 graduates is the largest class in the programme’s history. A few women are successful.

An earlier Wall Street Journal story dating from 2007 describes the programme as ‘secretive’ – the journalist complains that officials would not describe the military elements of the programme – and its premiss is that Talpiot has ‘created an unforeseen by-product — a legion of entrepreneurs that has helped turn Israel into a technology juggernaut’.

Critics note that only a handful of participants have achieved senior rank in the IDF. Although in the early years, many remained in the armed forces or shifted to academic positions, that is no longer the case. One of the programme’s founders is quoted:

‘He doesn’t mind that graduates are getting wealthy, but says that if they aren’t working in the country, “Israeli money should not be invested in them.”’

But a Talpiot graduate poses the opposite argument:

‘Though most graduates aren’t involved in defending Israel, their role in the country’s economy is just as important to Israel’s survival. “What we are doing is generating new ideas and solutions,” he says. “That is very difficult to wipe out in a war.”’

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NAALE Elite Academy

Another original programme is the NAALE Elite Academy, which supports Jewish young people from the diaspora to attend an Israeli upper secondary school.

Established in 1992, the programme has supported over 13,000 or over 20,000 participants since its inception (depending on the source).

It is funded by the Ministry of Education and the Jewish Agency for Israel – there is no charge for participants beyond the initial $500 registration fee. Students have all their living and Israeli travel expenses met, as well as the cost of flights to and from home at the beginning and end of the programme.

Participants attend Israeli upper secondary schools throughout Grades 10-12. Initial courses are taught in English, but teaching is conducted entirely in Hebrew by 11th Grade. Some 20 hours a week are dedicated to learning Hebrew in Grade 10.

Participants can be placed in either secular or religious schools – 26 schools participate in the scheme. They board at their schools but are allocated a bilingual host family who offer ‘home-away-from-home hospitality during Sabbath and school holidays, and a warm and caring environment’.

In order to qualify, applicants must demonstrate academic ability and emotional maturity. They undertake a series of selection tests – in English, Hebrew and maths – as well as a psychological test. This is followed by a series of interviews. However, 60% of applicants are accepted.

Up to 30% decide to return to their countries at the end of Grade 10, but nearly all who complete Grade 11 continue into Grade 12. Some 90% of these achieve the Bagrut (they receive special dispensation for recently acquired Hebrew language skills).

Once students have completed the course, they can decide to stay in Israel. Some 85% of those completing the programme stay and transfer to university or undertake military service. Of the 15% who return home, over half return to Israel within a year.

This recent news article features NAALE.

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Jerusalem Israel City Hall Complex courtesy of jaime silva

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Israel Center for Excellence in Education

The Israel Center for Excellence in Education is a big player, providing a huge range of programmes and also the Arts and Science Academy.

Interestingly, one source describes the Center as ‘a staunch critic of the Education Ministry’, although it collaborates with it over the provision of many enrichment activities..

The Center describes its goal as:

‘To foster the concept of leadership, excellence and public responsibility throughout the entire educational community.

The Center for Excellence challenges bright and motivated students in every segment of Israel’s population.’

The website divides its work into five discrete areas:

  • The Israel Arts and Science Academy (IASA) – which is described as its flagship programme and is outlined in the next section;
  • National Programmes, which include Excellence 2000 (E2K) – already mentioned in Part Two.
  • Professional Development
  • Special Initiatives and
  • International Activities

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National Programmes

Within the suite of national programmes, five carry an Excellence 2000 imprimatur. The overview explains that the original programme was for lower secondary schools and was styled Mitchell Excellence 2000. Provision was extended to elementary schools via Skirball Excellence 2000 and subsequently to upper secondary schools via E2K High School. There are also E2K School-Wide and E2K City-Wide programmes.

Mitchell Excellence 2000 is the largest of these, described by the Center as:

‘The most comprehensive programme dealing with highly motivated and excelling students in the school system’.

From Grade 5 onwards, some 10,000 participating pupils in over 250 schools access enrichment classes focused on experimental sciences and mathematical thinking. They are taught by some 1,700 teachers who are trained through the Excellence Educators’ Institute (see below).

Skirball Excellence 2000 is designed for pupils in Grades 5-6 while the E2K High School is for Grades 10-11. Both were introduced in communities already served by the Mitchell Programme.

The School-Wide model is intended to: ‘enhance science skills and promote excellence throughout the entire grade level in selected schools’ so is not specifically a gifted programme. The City-Wide model is a community-wide extension of the whole school model. The website claims an extensive waiting list of cities waiting to join.

The website carries a 2006 evaluation by the Szold Institute which provides further insights into this family of initiatives.

It describes the overarching goals as:

‘(1) grooming excellence, encouraging creativity and educational leadership among students while providing equal opportunity to all segments of the population;

(2) grooming the student as a thinking, initiating and creating person;

(3) posing challenges to the students and encouraging depth and realisation of potential;

(4) providing the students with the tools for developing scientific and mathematical thought;

(5) enhancing student motivation to understand natural phenomenon [sic] through research and experiment;

(6) providing the students with professional tools and knowledge in the arts and encouraging and grooming self-expression;

(7) encouraging the student to strive for excellence and advance to higher academic levels;

(8) empowering teachers and assisting in changing teaching patterns so that research, experiment and teacher guided self-study are integrated; and

(9) strengthening the local school system as a result of strengthening and integrating the strive for excellence in students and teachers participating in the programme’.

There are four components: staff training, a learning programme focused on subjects not normally encountered in the school curriculum, supplementary enrichment activities and a residential summer camp at IASA for pupils completing Grade 8.

Excellence 2000 began in 1998, but originated in an earlier Discovery Programme which operated from 1988 in a smaller number of schools as a 3-year intervention for Grade 7-9 students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Discovery had four specific objectives

  • ‘To create enriched environments in disadvantaged communities that will provide opportunities for the discovery and nurturing of talent potential that otherwise might not surface.
  • To identify and nurture educationally students from disadvantaged communities who have potential for giftedness and leadership but have not had the cultural or educational advantages needed to develop their abilities.
  • To make the striving for excellence a goal of local educational systems.
  • To increase the pool of applicants for the Israel Arts and Science Academy.’

Participants were identified in the 7th Grade through teacher nomination, standardised test data, academic performance, or other relevant evidence. Students were taught in informal groups of 12-16, undertaking two 90 minute sessions each week, one on mathematical thinking skills and the other covering a scientific topic. Between five and seven special activities in music and art were also offered throughout the year and also two day-long field trips were also included. By the end of the programme in Grade 9, participants would compete for admission to the Academy on an equal basis to other candidates.

At the time of the evaluation in 2006, Mitchell Excellence 2000 was operational in 150 schools involving some 8,000 students. At this stage the Skirball model was being piloted in 20 primary schools and the High School model in 10 upper secondary schools.

Participating pupils were originally identified by their teachers using five criteria: high achievement, high learning potential and willingness to face new challenges, curiosity and creativity, determination and motivation and commitment to complete the programme. However, a screening test and interview process was subsequently introduced. Around 10% of learners were taken into the programme, taught in classes of 15-20.

Courses are focused on science and maths, with two hours a week typically allocated to each. Half of the four-hour weekly provision is during the school day and half outside it. Standard study units have been developed. Participating pupils may also tutor other children in their school. Each participating school must undertake three wider enrichment activities annually.

Each teacher must undertake 56 hours of compulsory training annually including a three-day summer programme at IASA and 4 one-day sessions. The evaluation refers to a new experiment in school-based training to be introduced in 2007.

Some central activities have also been developed including the Ilan Ramon Space Team Programme, a series of online challenges and a competition to design and build an invention.

The evaluation also refers to the extension of Excellence 2000 to immigrant learners, particularly those from Ethiopia and the Muslim states of the former Soviet Union. In 2006 there were 11 groups nationally, with a plan to start up 13 more in 2007.

The programme has also been extended to the USA, via the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy and 100 other American schools are involved.

Though rather dated, this 2001 article offers some further insight into the pupil experience of E2K.

Other national programmes listed on the website reference some of these additional central initiatives:

  • The Space Team Programme – an additional session of two hours a week covering astronomy and astrophysics with support from the Asher Institute for Space Research at the Technion.
  • The Science Adventures Programme – a combination of field trips and school-based activities built around a theme. About 45 different themes have been developed and are offered annually.
  • Young Detectives Club – enabling participants to work on real-life cases in Israeli Police forensic science laboratories and study electronic data protection in collaboration with Microsoft Israel.
  • Gildor Family Projects and Inventions – participants address a real-life problem. The 2012/13 challenge is ‘Developing and constructing a ‘smart’ system for the prevention of train and motor vehicle collisions’. They compete to produce inventions that assess creativity, design, effort and functionality. An annual report on the competition is published.
  • Summer Camps – week-long events blending small group sessions and workshop activities for pupils in Grades 7-8. An annual report is again produced, but the most recent dates from 2010.
  • Opportunity for Excellence – which may be the evolution of the support for immigrant students mentioned above. It supports Ethiopian, Kavkaz and Bucharian pupils in lower secondary schools.
  • The Science Maze – an interactive puzzle-based experience for children of all ages and adults.

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Professional Development

The website says the Excellence Educators’ Institute has developed:

‘47 different training tracks spanning elementary through high school levels in the areas of experimental science, mathematical thinking, technology, leadership skills and more’.

The Institute offers national and regional workshops designed for new or experienced teachers, for those engaged in pilot programmes and those in international programmes.

National workshops are of 3-5 days’ duration and based at IASA. All workshops are accredited by the Ministry of Education. The most recent annual report outlines provision in 2011. Some 2,000 participants are recorded, but many are multiple registrations so the number of individuals involved will be far lower.

The Center also runs an Education Advisers Course in collaboration with the Davidson Institute and the Ministry of Education. The purpose is to secure a cadre of ‘School Excellence Advisors’ enabled to:

  • ‘Lead the school team, particularly science teachers, in all excellence related issues, by creating and leading projects for the school’s outstanding and general student population.
  • Serve as an advisor to outstanding students.
  • Serve as a focal point for classroom teachers seeking guidance and enrichment in dealing with this special group of students.’

The 2006 Szold Institute evaluation once more provides further detail. Schools nominate a member of staff to undertake this role who then undertakes a two-year (168 hour) course.

The content includes: subject expertise and leadership skills but also:

‘development of regional excellence leadership teams, teaching and guiding excelling students, development of teacher excellence guidance skills, new models for running project in the school and tools for handling difficulties and obstacles.’

Curiously, subject expertise can only be in science – biology, chemistry or physics. This provision was introduced in 2005.

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Special Initiatives

There is an ‘Annual Carylon Conference’ which:

‘brings together educators,members of academia, and world renowned specialists from Israel and abroad who share particular expertise in the field of education for highly able students.’

But the link takes one to a page headed ‘The Raphi Amram Center for Creative Excellence (RACCE):

‘One of the stated objectives of RACCE is to provide expertise in dealing with highly able, talented teenagers through special symposia and teacher training institutes. To serve that goal, the Center for Excellence, in conjunction with the Ministry of Education’s Department of Gifted Students, has hosted conferences for more than a decade.  Each conference since 1998 has included the Raphi Amram Memorial Lecture.’

And there is also another page referencing the Herzliya Conference on Israel’s National Strength, I think because it features a presentation to the 2008 Conference on Excellence as a National Value and to the 2007 Conference on Enhancing Excellence in Education (in Word).

A newspaper article provides further detail of the relevance of gifted education – and E2K specifically – to the 2007 Herzliya Conference. I can find no reference to any significant initiative emerging from the Conference, however.

This section also carries brief details of the Center’s online provision:

‘Virtual learning classes are broadcast live to all participating schools using basic internet infrastructures displayed on an overhead projector…Teachers in the Virtual Learning Programme go through intensive training presented by the Excellence Educators Institute. Within the framework of this training they gain on-line experience in orchestrating an on-screen classroom environment.’

Despite the reference to Virtual learning, it seems that this provision is deliberately low-tech.

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International Activities

This section of the Center’s portfolio includes:

  • E2K provision in Chennai India via HeyMath!

Some 45 E2K study units have been translated into English, while a training course has been developed for bodies undertaking a co-ordination role abroad and for trainers of local maths and science teachers who will run the programmes.

The ‘E2K International Learning Community’ encompasses online forums and the online learning outlined above. There is also an ‘international riddle of the month’.

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Mediterranean Sea Apolonia Coast Israel courtesy of vad levin

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The Israel Arts and Science Academy (IASA)

IASA accommodates some 200 students drawn from across Israel and claims to draw on all its communities, regardless of ethnic and religious background. The school first opened in 1990, located on a campus in Southern Jerusalem.

There is very little about the actual operation of the School on the Center’s own website, which concentrates on external activities. These include an Exploration Camp, enabling 100 Grade 8 students to experience IASA for nine days over the summer break. This Report on the 2011 Camp gives a sense of the programme.

There is a section about the Gildor Project Week, described as the highlight of IASA’s academic year, in which students undertake their own research projects. A Community Service Programme is also mentioned which takes place every Tuesday afternoon throughout the academic year.

The Academy has over 1,000 alumni. It runs a programme enabling immediate graduates to undertake a year of voluntary public service, taken up by almost 40% of those graduating.

A lengthy paper on ‘Learning Dilemmas of Curriculum Development at IASA and its Influence on Students’ Concepts of Learning’ appears in Volume 22(1) of Gifted and Talented International (June 2007) but, despite being co-authored by an ex-headteacher, provides relatively little tangible detail about the operation of the Academy. Even Wikipedia is little help.

Another source is more useful. It defines IASA’s objectives as:

  • ‘To create a unique educational environment for the nurture of exceptional talent potential in science, mathematics, music and the graphic arts.
  • To nourish cognitive, affective, social and creative excellence.
  • To learn about curriculum, teaching, creating a learning environment and other elements of nurturing excellence.’

The Academy aims to offer four elements of learning:

‘1. First-class education in specific fields of talent. This element aims at nurturing students to become extraordinary performers and/or producers of ideas in their chosen field of specialisation.

2. General core studies and interdisciplinary studies. This element aims at broadening the cultural perspectives of students and enhancing mutual sensitivity and appreciation between science students and art students by providing ample opportunities for cross-fertilisation across these disciplines.

3. Opportunities to serve the community. This element pertains to the relationships between the students, the school and the community. It is designed to enhance a sense of responsibility and commitment to the community. In addition, the community provides a laboratory and resources for out-of-school enrichment.

4. Nurturing of values. This element emphasizes a general humanistic orientation and commitment to Israel and to the Jewish people’.

The Academy has a Curriculum Development Unit which has produced its own customised curriculum, taking full advantage of the flexibilities permitted by the Ministry of Education, and also specialises in software and multimedia learning units.

The interdisciplinary focus is important:

‘The Academy does not provide watered-down science courses for its arts students or low-level “appreciation courses” for science students. Rather, its curricular efforts focus on providing opportunities for high-level interdisciplinary experiences that bring out the basic, integral relationships of science and arts in non-contrived ways. In addition, the Humanities curriculum provides opportunities for intensive study and discussion of important moral, ethical and aesthetic issues.’

The staff includes full-time teachers in the core subject disciplines, part-time teachers who are specialists in their fields and counsellors who oversee the residential activities.

All students live in the Academy, even if their homes are in Jerusalem. The pupil population is said to be entirely representative by socio-economic background as well as ethnic/religious background.

The Center for Excellence through Education carries a survey of alumni undertaken in 2007 which, though it provides much interesting data, fails to confirm this statement.

A second source is a 2011 article in the Jerusalem Post penned by a history professor at McGill University whose daughter attended the Academy. He describes IASA as an ‘oasis of excellence’ within a desert of mediocrity:

‘Tragically, an Israeli epidemic of mediocre teachers, undisciplined students, unsupportive parents, unyielding bureaucrats and unchallenging curricula is spawning many dysfunctional classrooms and failing schools. Although we also see fabulous teachers, stimulating classrooms and well-run schools, the educational mediocrity my children have experienced has been our greatest disappointment in Israel. Shrieking teachers, wild classrooms and pointless tests demoralise students.’

In his view it is ‘a magical mix of Zionist summer camp and Harvard’. He confirms that fees are subsidised for those from relatively poor backgrounds and quotes the Chairman of the Board:

“This commitment to excellence in all dimensions is an expression of our Zionism…When we founded the school twenty years ago, excellence was a dirty word in Israel, considered elitist. Today, Israelis – and people around the world – look to us, and to Israel in general, as a centre of excellence.”

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Photographer takes a photo on the shore of the Dead Sea courtesy of vad levin

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Some other Key Institutions

 

Young Person’s Institute for the Promotion of Creativity and Excellence

YPIPCE (link is to a website entirely in Hebrew) was founded by Erika Landau and is based at Tel-Aviv University. Her approach emphasises motivation and creativity, which have not featured strongly in the Israeli process of identifying gifted learners until recently.

Landau’s website says her Institute was founded:

‘as a nonprofit association, about thirty years ago to help talented and gifted children to cope with their problems within a society that could not accept those who could not “conform”: those children who asked more questions, who got easily bored because they caught things easily and quickly’

Another source describes its role as:

‘To provide educational enrichment opportunities that augment the regular school programme. The aim is to provide a framework within which the child learns to enjoy the personal search for knowledge.’

The Institute provides a range of workshops – up to 100 per semester – in science, social science, arts and humanities. The sessions take place after school. About 800 learners are involved each semester. The Institute’s site also says that enrichment classes are offered in 80 subjects for children aged 5-15. Most teachers are lecturers, either at Tel Aviv University or the Academy of Art.

It also works with a cohort of between 350 and 500 Tel-Aviv children from culturally deprived backgrounds who attend workshops on creative, scientific and social thinking.

Over 35,000 learners have participated in Institute programmes (the Institute’s own site increases this to nearly 40,000 and says the institute was founded 43 years ago, so in 1969). Some 40% of teachers are former students. The annual budget is about US $400,000.

During the summer, the Institute offers a Creative Activity Month, involving visits, discussions, symposia and so on. The Institute also offers summer in-service training on the nature of giftedness and creativity and identification processes, as well as one-off lectures and seminars. Parental workshops are also provided.

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Jerusalem Academy High School for Music and Dance

The Academy High School of Music and Dance is based on the Hebrew University campus in Jerusalem. Founded in the 1960s, it provides lower and upper secondary education through a curriculum which combines the standard curriculum and specialisation in either music or dance.

Students are taken from all over the country and there is residential provision for those living outside Jerusalem. There is a special course for the most outstanding learners which enables them to progress to the neighbouring undergraduate Academy in the final year of upper secondary school.

Within the dance programme, students learn about the history of dance, dance  music and anatomy. In the neighbouring Conservatory they practise classical ballet, modern and jazz dance and improvisation. Upper secondary students specialise in either classical ballet or modern dance.  All pupils undertake at least two performances on the professional stage annually.

The Department also provides two performances for other Jerusalem schools. Each class holds an open session annually for parents, friends and teachers.

Within the music programme, students pursue musical history, theory and analysis. The majority study an instrument or singing at the neighbouring Conservatory.

The Conservatory provides professional training in music and dance for 4-19 year-olds (so has many younger pupils who do not attend the High School). All together there are 700 enrolled.

It hosts a specialist centre for piano performance which runs the Young Piano Master Project (YPMP), designed to develop excellence in young pianists. Participants meet together fortnightly for three hours from 4.30-7,30pm for lectures, masterclasses and workshops.

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Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts

This High School was founded in 1959. Named after a cellist who emigrated from England in the 1920s, it too draws students from throughout Israel to its campus in Givatayim, a small city east of Tel Aviv. Up to 15% annually are from immigrant populations, while others are from disadvantaged backgrounds or disabled. Students are selected on the basis of audition and interview.

They specialise in one of six areas: classical music, jazz, classical ballet and modern dance, drama, visual arts and film. The school has its own full symphony orchestra and big band, as
well as a range of smaller ensembles and troupes.

The website mentions:

‘plans to expand our academic and artistic programmes to include specially gifted students from other sectors of Israeli society: ultra-orthodox,  Arabs and Druze.’

But these are dependent on securing the necessary funding. It is clear that the buildings have some shortcomings and the school is heavily reliant on donations for its survival.

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Wingate Institute

The Wingate Institute is located south of the city of Netanya. It is the country’s national centre for physical education and sport and was founded in 1957.

It incorporates a training school for coaches and instructors, a centre for research, sports medicine and physiotherapy, a pedagogical centre, an elite sports unit and a Centre for the Development of Sport Giftedness.

The latter was established in 1991 and trains elite young athletes in judo, swimming, volleyball and tennis.

A document dating from 2007 adds table tennis to this list and gives the number of students as 90. Meanwhile, the Hebrew version of the website gives the number as 100 aged 12-18, adding basketball, triathlon and table tennis to the list of sports, making seven in all.

It is not clear from the English language pages whether these students also undertake their schooling at the Centre, but the Hebrew version suggests that, while students are resident at the Centre, they attend a nearby school. Students undertake about five hours of sports training daily. Part of the cost is borne by the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport.

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Havruta High School for Leadership and Culture

Havruta High School was founded by the Israel Center for Youth Leadership ICYL). The Center describes the High School as its cornerstone. It is a private day school, located east of Netanya, which opened in 2009. Its capacity is 600.

The School’s mission is:

To nurture leadership characterised by an outward growing sense of responsibility: responsibility for our own choices and actions, responsibility to our family, to the society in which we live, to our nation and to the world.’

An article dating from 2009 in the Jerusalem Post describes the project in development. Teachers were hired a year before the school opened so all could receive preparatory training. All have Masters degrees or Doctorates. Howard Gardner is a member of the School’s advisory board.

The School’s location is:

‘at the outskirts of Neveh Hadassah. A “youth village” housing upward of 300 children, Neveh Hadassah caters to children at risk, kids from broken homes, children who come to Israel as unaccompanied minors, along with various special-needs cases. Havruta officials hope that their students might begin honing their leadership skills by reaching out to the Neveh Hadassah children.’

It operates a needs-blind admissions process: one-third of the students admitted in the first year received scholarships averaging 75% of fees.

The 2009 article suggests fees will be around NIS 2,900 per month (£466) – a high level compared with other Israeli private schools. One of the school’s goals is that 50% of the intake will receive scholarships.

(However, the Hebrew pages of the website suggest the fee may have been reduced to NIS 2,330 a month exclusive of travel and meals; also that currently some 40% of the intake receive scholarships.)

The admissions process is described thus in the 2009 article:

‘Prospective students will complete and submit an application form. If their applications are successful, they will then be called in for the first of a series of interviews with school staff. If those go well, recommendations will follow. To round out this assessment – more qualitative than quantitative – grades and test scores will also be considered, but as the smallest piece of the overall puzzle.’

The curriculum follows national requirements but emphasises the development of thinking, learning and social skills. The School offers an ‘early college programme in the liberal arts, in association with Bard College’ in New York State, USA. This enables students to achieve an Associate in Arts degree.

It operates the Harkness Method and provides a four-year Social Engagement Programme. One day each week is dedicated to Israeli society. The students undertake fortnightly visits with alternate weeks used for planning and review. There is a four-year thematic cycle:

‘During the first year students become familiar at first hand with Israeli society, through a series of visits, involving encounters and dialogue with young members of the many Jewish and non-Jewish religious, cultural and ethnic groups in the country…. The second year is devoted to learning about institutions and centres of power that that affect us all; political and judicial institutions, the business community, mass media, local government and the non-profit sector…During the third year students follow in the footsteps of our rebirth as a sovereign nation – from the holocaust, through the pioneers and founding fathers of Israel, to the crucible events of our contemporary history. Through moving encounters with prominent figures and places of our recent history, students will be challenged to think about their own generation’s role in ensuring the continuity of our people. The final year of study, in similar experiential fashion, will focus on bridging differences and conflicts within Israeli society and in Israel’s relations with the Diaspora.’

Several other institutions are mentioned online but it is not always clear whether they still exist. Others provide relatively little information about their operations or offer it exclusively in Hebrew.

A recent news story covered the establishment of a new school for the gifted in Beer Sheva – the Saryl and Stephen Gross Maof School for Excellence.

The story says that the school will enrol 500 learners from Beer Sheva and the Negev, but will have the potential to double in size. The building cost NIS 8m and was:

‘initiated by Federation CJA Montreal, the Beer Sheva municipality, the Ministry of Education and the Rashi Foundation who managed the project. Saryl and Stephen Gross from Montreal provided more than half of the funding for the project’.

It becomes clear that this is not actually a school but an enrichment centre for children in Grades 3-10 drawn from 65 schools in the area.

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Gordon College

Gordon College of Education in Haifa has already been mentioned for its long-standing role in teachers’ professional development.

It operates a Center for the Promotion of Giftedness and Excellence, providing training for teachers and a weekly enrichment programme serving over 450 learners in Grades 4-6. It also holds an annual conference on Giftedness and Excellence, though I have been unable to source any record of proceedings.

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The RANGE Center

The RANGE Center – The Interdisciplinary Center for Research and Advancement of Giftedness and Excellence – is based in the Education Department at the University of Haifa. There are three staff: a Head of Center – Roza Leikin – plus an Academic and an Administrative Director.

RANGE comprises a research and a research implementation section. The former investigates giftedness and its cultivation. The only study mentioned is focused on ‘general cognitive abilities, neurocognitive activity and creativity related to exceptional mathematical ability’.

The implementation section is a collaborative venture with Haifa municipality, providing out-of-school programmes for learners in Grades 8-9, who undertake upper secondary courses in maths, science, art and neuroscience. The Hebrew website lists five current courses and a further 17 to be offered in the future.

The website mentions that the Education Department offers a Masters programme in the Education of the Gifted and Talented which includes courses in gifted education research, personal and affective characteristics, creativity and giftedness, social justice and giftedness, teaching the gifted and curricula for gifted students.

The course seems to exist (though the link is broken) but it is not clear from the English translation whether it remains a separate MA, or simply an option in part of a wider MA in Counselling and Human Development.

The RANGE website also mentions that, subject to funding, its future plans include personalised e-learning enrichment courses and a programme supporting students in Grades 11-12 to undertake their own research projects. The Center also plans a series of lectures for teachers and parents.

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Gifted Expertise Center

The Gifted Expertise Center is a consultancy run by Hava Vidergor, a lecturer on the Certification Programme for Teachers of Gifted Students at Oranim College and a teacher at the Oranim Gifted Education Center.

The Center offers access to a team of international experts – Renzulli, Reiss, Sisk, Yamin, McCluskey etc – who offer support in designing gifted programmes, programme implementation and evaluation, professional development, tailored solutions for individual learners and the use of Renzulli Learning Systems. The website carries the ICIE logo, so is presumably an offshoot of that operation.

The professional development offer consists of seven 4 and 8 hour workshops to develop teaching strategies and five curriculum models workshops covering Schoolwide Enrichment, Integrated Curriculum, Parallel Curriculum and Vidergor’s own ‘Multidimensional Curriculum Model’.. These can be combined to provide a complete 60-hour programme.

The website advertises the imminent publication of a book ‘The Practical Handbook for Teaching Gifted and Able Learners’, edited by Vidergor, Harris and Yamin and again carrying the ICIE imprimatur.

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Szold Institute

The Henrietta Szold Institute has already featured in this post by virtue of its involvement in the testing of gifted learners.

Its website also mentions two specific research programmes:

Eureka – the Cross Cultural Model for Enrichment and Talent Nurturance is designed to expose submerged talent in science, technology and the visual arts. Participants are selected from ‘a marginal cultural / socio-economic background’ and supported throughout primary education. There are two stages, called exposure and immersion.

All children in Grades 1 and 2 are:

‘Exposed to a supportive learning environment that provides them with hands-on experiences in science and art. Teachers receive in-service training on how to use the enriched science and art curricula in an experiential manner and on how to evaluate student behaviour and work’.

From Grade 3 onwards, the subset who have been identified as gifted ‘explore in depth their talent area in special programmes’, while the remainder continue as before. At the end of each school year, those whose performance and motivation improves sufficiently join the gifted programme until the end of primary school.

An in-depth review of Eureka (which is rather old, dating from 1997) is available here.

The Ministry of Education’s Mentoring Programme, which is undertaken by the Institute on its behalf and was referenced earlier in this post.

‘During this experience, students are exposed to cutting-edge knowledge and skills, develop new capacities and acquire tools for coping with challenges posed by their field of studies. This experience is intended to assist the students in consolidating a professional identity in preparation for choosing a future career. The programme’s goals are:

(1)  To fulfil highly gifted student potential in the areas of their interest.

(2) To familiarise students with the complexity of work carried out by professionals who are at the forefront of their fields.

(3) To foster an ethical and social awareness and responsibility in accordance with values of Jewish philosophy and tradition.

The programme’s implementation is monitored by a formative and summative evaluation, which concentrates on…progress and outcomes, as well as…talented students’ identity formation.’

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Judean Desert 2 courtesy of chaim zvi

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What is the Impact?

I have not unearthed a completely reliable estimate of the total cost of this enormous spectrum of activity, or even the proportion shouldered by the Israeli taxpayer. One 2010 OECD publication gives a figure of NIS 8.25m per year (about £1.3m) but this must be a significant under-estimate, unless it is the budget of the Ministry’s gifted education department.

The translated spreadsheets on this page appear to suggest that the Ministry alone commits some NIS 19.7m of its NIS 36bn budget to gifted education (there are two separate budget lines – one translates as ‘gifted children’ (NIS 13.641m); the other as ‘gifted youth’ (NIS 6.047m). If these figures are correct, then government expenditure alone is closer to £3.1m.

Since the Ministry’s website says that its programmes are benefiting 45,287 learners (12,895 gifted and 32,392 outstanding) this implies expenditure of roughly NIS 435 (£69) per learner.

Whether or not these figures are accurate, there is no doubt that Israel is thoroughly committed to investment in its human capital and – some might argue – actually concentrates disproportionately on its gifted learners.

Such investment should be generating a significant return, especially since it is so heavily focused on the STEM sector. Indeed, it is hard to escape the conclusion that STEM is over-dominant in Israeli gifted education, and that there is a clear ‘pecking order’ which favours those with mathematical and scientific ability over those with different talents to offer. This may be beginning to change, but is so thoroughly embedded that it will take some time to secure a more balanced offer.

Rather worryingly though, Israel’s performance in PISA 2009 would suggest that the impact of this enormous investment on student achievement has been fairly marginal at best.

The overall scores left much to be desired:

  • Israel’s mean score in the reading test was 474, 19 below the OECD average, making it 36th of 64 countries
  • In maths it scored 447, 49 points below the OECD average of 496 and 41st in rank order of countries
  • In science it managed 455, 46 below the OECD average of 501, again finishing 41st in rank order.

One might expect the performance of high achievers to be significantly better, but this analysis from the Taub Center (p333) shows the average level of achievement across both the top 5% and the bottom 5% across all three tests in 25 OECD countries.

Israel comes last of all for the bottom 5%, but also no better than second last for the top 5%:

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It is not as if this is a recent dip – a temporary aberration. Another Taub Center publication illustrates graphically that there is a longstanding issue, supported as much by TIMSS daya as by PISA.

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And if we look at achievement on the separate PISA 2009 tests at the higher levels, it is clear that there is relatively little difference between those and the mean scores.

  • In reading, 6.4% of Israelis achieved level 5 and 1.0% achieved level 6. The OECD averages were 6.8% and 0.8% respectively. This places Israel 18th  of 34 OECD countries at Level 5 and 10th equal of 34 at Level 6 (the latter is equal with the UK). So far, so good, but
  • In maths, 4.7% achieved level 5 and 1.2% achieved level 6. The OECD averages were 9.6% and 3.1% respectively. This places Israel 31st of 34 at Level 5 and 30th of 34 at level 6.
  • In science, 3.5% achieved level 5 and 0.5% achieved level 6. The OECD averages were 7.4% and 1.1% respectively. This places Israel 30th of 34 at level 5 and 25th of 34 at Level 6.

Ironically, given Israel’s disproportionate focus on maths and science gifted education, the best results comparatively speaking are in reading! This may serve to reinforce the existing imbalance in favour of STEM provision.

Although Level 6 rankings tend to be higher than those at Level 5, suggesting that the very top performers do slightly better comparatively speaking, the differences are small – and Israel is comfortably outpaced by the likes of Austria, Belgium, Chile, Estonia, Iceland and Slovakia.

While some of this disappointing performance can be attributed to the sizeable difference between the achievement of Israeli students from relatively advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds – and the underperformance of Arab students compared with Israeli students – it is inescapable that the overall figures are not a ringing endorsement of Israel’s gifted education.

This is of course only a single indicator with its own significant shortcomings – and one can point to alternative measures, such as Nobel Prizes per capita or the Global Innovation Index  which show that Israel punches well above its weight when it comes to adult achievement.

Nevertheless, the PISA results are so poor that there is an extremely strong case for an urgent root-and-branch examination of Israel’s support for gifted and talented learners – as part of its wider commitment to educational excellence.

I would expect that loud alarm bells are already ringing but, if the PISA 2012 results show negligible improvement, the clamour will surely become impossible to ignore.

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GP

November 2012

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.

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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.

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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.

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‘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

 

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.

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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