The warning by Technion President Peretz Lavie that science education in Israel is on the brink of collapse should shock every Israeli concerned about the future of the state. Economic growth, development and welfare in Israel all depend on scientific institutions and the industries nourished by the products of their research. Lacking science students with the proper level of knowledge, there will be no proper scientists, engineers or researchers.
In an interview yesterday with Or Kashti, Lavie said we have seen a sharp decline in recent years in the knowledge of students accepted to the Technion, particularly in the basic subjects - math, physics and chemistry. According to Lavie, the new students are not ready for university studies.
The collapse has many reasons, first and foremost skewed political priorities, which have swollen the ultra-Orthodox education system in which the sciences are not studied at all. Meanwhile, the education system has surrendered to pressure from students and their parents for the youngsters to study fashionable subjects while "fleeing" the core scientific subjects for easier ones, as Lavie put it.
Another reason for the collapse is the fostering of cloistered and conservative nationalism in the education system, which contravenes the spirit of scientific freedom. The result can be seen in the decline in the number of applicants to science faculties, while major resources in those departments are channeled to closing gaps in students' knowledge.
Scientific and research institutions are an irreplaceable national asset. If that asset shrinks and is lost, Israel will deteriorate to third-world status. The government must put the rehabilitation of the education system at the top of its goals. A program to bring scientists back home, which the prime minister is so proud of, is not enough. Scientific institutions have no value without a younger generation. If the schools do not produce a new generation of researchers and engineers, we will not have advanced industries.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prefers the political expediency of the partnership with Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu above anything else. So his government has not enforced the core curriculum in Haredi schools and continues to shortchange and neglect Arab students. The dangerous superficiality of public education, including in the sciences, threatens Israel's future.
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