Technology Strategies in Israel
Is the right to be a scientist or to work in high-tech reserved only for strong populations? What are the common perceptions about science and technology education in the social context? What is the strength of these fields in their capacity to bridge the gaps in Israeli society, and how can it be done?
Science and technology have the potential to bridge gaps and promote populations from low socio-economic backgrounds, as is reflected in Technoda that is located in a poor neighborhood. In the Western world in general and Israel in particular, the reference to the link between education and employment in science and technology and social aspects of life, is loose and lack "social soul”.
Children from different backgrounds learn science and technology regardless of their basic knowledge, opinions and culture. An example that can illustrate this issue is the story of the Ethiopian immigration to Israel. A child that grows up in the Western world usually experiences from an early age, knowledge and quantitative skills. His parents teach him to count steps when climbing the stairs, trees and cars; he learns to read the time on the watch, etc. Ethiopian culture is not quantitative. For example, in many parts of Ethiopia, the time is determined by the position of the Sun. The boy that came from Ethiopia to Israel with a lack of quantitative knowledge and skills must face the same challenges of the child that grew up in the west and was raised with the notions of quantity.
In the national context, the State of Israel that has scarce natural resources must invest in human capital. This is the place to tell the story of Technoda – a scientific center that beyond its scientific work takes on a significant social responsibility with the clear purpose to bridge the gaps in Israeli society through science and technology.
Technoda was established during the 1980s, in the distressed neighborhood of Givat Olga. The story began with 20 children that studied science in a small room. Today, in the third decade after the establishment of the Center, more than 30,000 children and youth visit Technoda from all over Israel. Technoda has unique facilities that allow the staff to illustrate the wonders of science on a very high academic level. At its center stand the Stellar Observatory, the Planetarium, a medical simulation unit, an external Science Park Museum and Exhibit hall, advanced laboratories and a special unit for kindergartens.
The Center is unique in Israel in its areas of practice, activities and location at the center of Givat Olga a distressed neighborhood that has been faced with problems for the last few decades resulting from waves of immigrants from Ethiopia, Caucasus and veteran populations of low socioeconomic backgrounds. The educational project constitutes an interactive environment for children coming from different backgrounds: veterans and new immigrants, religious and secular, urban children and children from Kibbutzim, Jews and Arabs.
The vision of Technoda is to create an enrichment framework both on a scientific-educational level and on a community one. On the Scientific-educational level, the institute is responsible for development of the next generation of technology and science leaders in Israel, while it understands the importance of the subject in the national context especially in view of the deterioration in technology studies in recent years in Israel. On the community level, Technoda provides a framework for children from low socio-economic backgrounds through science and technology enrichment, to reduce the existing gaps in education within Israeli society.
The center activities designed for schools and kindergartens and gifted children occur in the morning during school hours. After that the social programs designed for children in the neighborhood are held during the afternoon and evening. The center operates special programs and afternoon classes in medicine, physics, computers, robotics, astronomy, etc.
At Technoda there are various programs with a social emphasis. For example, under the program "Afikim” Technoda becomes for hundreds of children and teenagers, a “home away from home” where children receive a hot meal after school, help with homework and scientific activity until late afternoon. These programs constitute for most of these children the only adult supervised framework after school. In the social context- acquiring knowledge in science and technology has the potential to serve as a basis for ending the vicious cycle of poverty and dependence. The exposure to science and technology produces among children and youth in general, and among those from “weak” populations in particular, richer language. It opens new horizons for them and serves as a moderating factor to negative effects that are part of the street culture. By providing elitist content to "weak" groups, a positive dynamic is created that affects both the participant and his family and immediate surroundings.
Another example is the kindergarten unit. The concept of educators in Technoda is that exposure and work in science must begin at an early age. The big challenge is how to impart the knowledge and skills to populations from low socioeconomic backgrounds that are not oriented to science and technology to start with. Technoda does it in a different way: through a combination of science and legend. Scientific content is combined with children’s legends. The process includes activity at the kindergarten as well as a series of meetings and activities at Technoda. The kindergarten teachers undergo a special training and at Technoda special, attractive, and interactive surroundings are built. The activity takes place at Technoda during the morning by a team that includes both the Technoda staff and the kindergarten teacher. In the afternoon the children’s parents are integrated in the process.
The evaluation procedures, based on all teaching-learning processes at Technoda, (Embedded Assessment) quantitative and qualitative, show findings in a variety of areas. Significant changes in the level of knowledge, in the variety of skills (research, asking questions) and also in relation to the importance of social and educational activities, were observed. Also, the study conducted among Technoda graduates showed a strong correlation not only between the percentage of high school students in the neighborhood that attended Technoda, but also a clear correlation was found between the number of years of participation at Technoda and success in matriculation in science and technology. There was also a correlation in choosing a scientific or technological profession.
A healthy society is a society which supports the weak. Science and technology can be a significant tool in strengthening these links.
Dr. Gadi Mador is the CEO Technoda.