Making Israel not just a ‘Start-Up Nation’ but the Catalyst of a ‘Start-Up Region’
Oct 30, 2014
On October 30th, under the auspices of the Council on Foreign Relations and Foreign Affairs Journal, the Israel-U.S. Business Forum convened to brainstorm how the United States and Israel could work together to help Israel develop the kind of initiatives that could be integrated throughout the region as a basis for further collaboration. A Keynote Panel kicked off the discussion; it was moderated by Josh Kram (left), Director, Turkey & Middle East Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Prof. Adam Shwartz (center), Director, Technion-Cornell Institute; and Dr. Idit Harel (right) CEO and Founder, Globaloria Education Technology.
The issue the Council asked Adam and me to address was whether and how Israel, using its technological expertise and economic strengths, could learn to develop regional initiatives that might lead to collaboration and peace in the region. Interestingly, both Adam and I immediately turned the conversation onto the challenging work Israel must undertake internally before it can become a catalyst for regional integration—work in the areas of education innovation and inclusion reforms.
Adam is Director of the newly created Technion-Cornell Institute in NYC. The Chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering and of the Technion Center for Computer Engineering, he also built the Technion’s Administrative Information Systems. He is now responsible for developing the vision for the new “higher-ed startup” that represents a unique synergy between two leading universities—Technion and Cornell.
Both Adam and I were born and reared in a startup–the state itself. We are both products of Israel’s K-12 public education system, served in IDF (Adam is a IAF pilot), and received undergraduate degrees in Israel (his B.Sc. in Physics and Electrical Engineering from Ben Gurion University), then moved to the USA for our graduate studies. Adam holds an M.A. degree in Applied Mathematics (1981) and a Ph.D. in Engineering (1982) from Brown University; I have an Ed.M. from Harvard (1984) and a Ph.D. from MIT (1988). Adam’s research interests are in optimizing computer networks. In other words, he is a STEM genius and an outstanding leader in Computer Science and Engineering in Higher Ed, while I am dedicating my life to transforming and reforming K12 education systems in such a way that everyone—EVERYONE!--(in the USA and Israel) has equal and ample opportunities to grow up to be an Adam Shwartz.
Based on our background and studies, Adam and I also share a belief that Israel must urgently work on improving its education system(s). The improvements need to focus on making learning fun and on modernizing the curriculum across the board to better engage and empower students everywhere in STEM knowledge, computational fluency, mathematical problem-solving, and tech-innovation skills.
In fact, there are multiple education systems in tiny Israel. Its 1.5 million K12 students (vs. 55 million in the USA) are served by five different systems: K12 public secular schools, K12 public religious schools, K12 Charedim schools, K12 Arab school, and K12 private schools (secular, Charedim, Catholic, etc.). Its half a million HigherEd students (vs 25 million in the USA attend public HigherEd, private HigherEd, Arab HigherEd, Yeshivas, etc. And then there is the military and special units (e.g., 8200 and IAF) that educate their forces in cutting-edge innovation, complex problem-solving, and leadership skills. Unfortunately, such training is mostly available for secular men (like Adam), so as a result, the leading actors of Startup Nation, as Israel is called, are mostly all men (unfortunately, as a woman, I am at a disadvantage in startup nation). But we all know that these type of skills could be taught in any school to any child—boys, girls, of any ethnic and religious background--stating young, and not only in the military!
Adam and I also agreed at the Forum that Israel’s failure to integrate certain parts of its population fully into the nation’s culture—along with the regional instability—are key obstacles from realizing our country’s full potential. So if Israel is to realize the full benefit of its innovative spirit and technological know-how, it must not only improve its education systems at all levels using innovative technologies—from my k-12 through Adam’s higher education; it must also deploy the improvements in all geographies and zip codes.
At the end of the day, our vision for peace is that it can be cultivated and achieved in our region through facilitating youth learning, both face to face and over computational networks, through their collaborating on STEM and computing projects. This, we believe, will ignite the formation of communities, organizations, and companies (physical and virtual) to solve the region’s most pressing problems and grow globally as a result. In a very real sense, that means applying the kinds of skills and innovations that have made Israel a world center of technological and business innovation—Startup Nation, after all—to education in K12, HigherEd, and LifeLong Learning.
In this regard, I like to think of Startup Nation becoming Education Nation. For where education is concerned, Israel is small enough and centralized enough—a few million students in one meta-system—that it can serve as the perfect deployment hub for demonstrating and scaling the best contemporary education ideas, including ideas about inclusion and global collaboration. One nation with roughly the same number of students as the city of New York— and with the same lack of integration we see elsewhere in the world—can be the perfect research base for proving what Adam and I believe can change the region and the world. For example, let’s network every one of those million kids—absolutely everyone, no matter their gender and no matter their zip code. Then let’s give every kid in the system the tools to start STEMing, creating digital media, working together in teams, learning to think critically and to solve problems. Think of what those skills can mean not just to the lives of those kids and not just to more equalized startups in Startup Nation, but to the region and the world.
Here are some of the key points we have discussed on the panel:
• Facilitate the integration of the entire Israeli population into citizenship and the workforce of the 21st century—in Israel first, then throughout the region;
• Improve all education systems in Israel itself first, in order to learn how to become a top provider of innovative education technology that facilitates state-wide and region-wide connection, integration, and collaboration;
• Cultivate informed and engaged citizens who are super-creative and digitally literate, and who are equally active and expressive in the political and economic landscapes;
• Launch regional initiatives for educational innovation and for shared entrepreneurship programs on STEM and computing—with the view that these initiatives can lead to meaningful economic relations;
• Use education technology to encourage innovative thinking among all citizens and our neighbors, starting young;
• Use new technology to grow cross-cultural, multi-gender, multilingual partnerships that build long-lasting regional ties;
• Maintain an entrepreneurial and creative mindset of startup culture (also in the education systems, schools, universities) while forming larger cohorts and multinational enterprises;
• Reinforce regional education and cooperation among Millennials to create innovations that will answer most pressing global challenges.
Finally, all around the world there are organizations, corporations, startups, and research centers that are engaged in advancing knowledge about how to shape global, industrial, and regional agendas. Cities such as Tel Aviv, Haifa, Aman, Istanbul, and New York City can becom drivers of local and regional forces at the intersection of people, education, infrastructure, and technology. The CFR should also consider looking at how the cities of Israel and other states in the region could form a network of cities-of-the-future (rather than states), leading the way in cultivating innovation by providing 1) relevant contemporary education, 2) equal opportunities for everyone to be entrepreneurial and super creative, and 3) an intelligent infrastructure. Watch the panel here.