Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

UJA Federation of Greater Toronto Transforming "STEM" Education in Israel

UJA Federation of Greater Toronto has launched a major new initiative in Israel, and it may just change the face of education in the Jewish state.

By: Sharon Schwartzman

Published: June 13th, 2014 in News » World

UJA Federation of Greater Toronto has launched a major new initiative in Israel, and it may just change the face of education in the Jewish state.

The plan was announced last month by UJA Federation’s Israel and Overseas Committee, which was in Israel for its twice-a-year consultation, during which it plans and reviews its strategic investments abroad.

“While Israel is often called ‘the start-up nation’, the fact is that it is producing fewer and fewer scientists and engineers,” explains Henry Morton, Co-Chair, along with Debbie Kimel, of the Committee. “In order to maintain its competitive edge in the world economy, Israel needs to radically improve its achievements in the fields of ‘STEM’ – science, technology, engineering and math.”

Rising to this challenge, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto has teamed up with the Israeli Education Ministry and other philanthropic agencies to transform STEM education in Israel. The initiative will be piloted in Toronto’s partnership region of Eilat/Eilot starting in September, and will eventually be replicated around the rest of the Jewish state. It aims to significantly increase the number of high school students who major in science, to introduce applied research into the classroom, and to recruit highly-qualified teachers.

The STEM initiative has been developed in partnership with the Rashi Foundation.

During its visit to Israel, the committee met with potential funding partners — including Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein – president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, and representatives of the Trump Foundation — in order to explore areas of cooperation.

In Eilat, the committee met with academics, school principals, teachers and inspectors, in order to get a full understanding of the challenges, and potential for strengthening STEM education. The committee also met with Meir Yitchak Halevy, the mayor of Eilat, and Udi Gat, the mayor of the Eilot regional council, both of whom are enthusiastically backing the STEM initiative.

In 2011, The Jewish Foundation at UJA Federation of Greater Toronto partnered with The Schulich Foundation to administer the largest STEM scholarship program in Israel and Canada: Schulich Leader Scholarships. To date, the program has distributed $10.5m in scholarships, producing 210 Schulich Leaders across both nations. In Israel, Schulich Leaders are pursuing undergraduate degrees in the STEM fields at Technion, Hebrew University, Ben-Gurion University, Tel Aviv University and Bar-Ilan University. The Schulich Leaders of Israel are high achievers in academics, with outstanding leadership in community or business life, many of who are also in need of financial aid in order to attend university. UJA anticipates the Schulich Leaders of Israel will help inspire the next generation of Israeli high school students that aspire to pursue a career in the STEM fields. Schulich Leaders will also reflect the importance of investing in the promotion of STEM education through their contributions in these areas, which strengthen the economy and help secure Israel’s future.

UJA Federation of Greater Toronto has been heavily involved in Eilat and the surrounding rural region of Eilot for nearly 30 years. Recently, Toronto has spearheaded several initiatives to attract young, highly-qualified newcomers to Israel’s “deep south”, by boosting employment possibilities, strengthening academia and industry, improving healthcare and supporting education. Indeed, some of the leading forces behind Eilat’s STEM program are young researchers who moved to the region with their families, as a direct result of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto initiatives.

“Recognizing the importance of higher education in a city like Eilat, UJA Toronto was one of the earliest and most important supporters of the Ben Gurion University campus in Eilat,” says Kimel. “We provided scholarships and other incentives to attract both students and researchers. Some of these young academics, who are now building their lives in Eilat, are our partners in this new initiative. In this way, our successes have come full circle.”

The Israel and Overseas Committee also toured the brand-new emergency room at Eilat’s Yoseftal hospital, which was also funded by UJA Toronto and is greatly enhancing the quality of life of the people of Eilat.

Toronto is developing programs to strengthen STEM education in its other two partnership regions in Israel – Bat Yam and Sderot — as well. In Bat Yam, these initiatives are specifically focused on encouraging girls to consider a career in STEM fields, since they are significantly under-represented at present. Other programs are focused on immigrant teens, especially Ethiopians. In both Bat Yam and Sderot, implementation of the STEM initiative will reflect whatever lessons are learned in Eilat-Eilot.

“We are excited to be helping to nurture Israel’s next generation of scientists, engineers and hi-tech entrepreneurs,” says Morton. “The impact of the STEM initiative will create ripples across Israel’s economy and society for years to come.”

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