2011 Nobel Laureate: Israel's Education Cuts Humiliate Scientists

Dan Shechtman, who was awarded the 2011 Nobel in chemistry, says Israel must foster scientists from kindergarten age if it wants to preserve its research edge.

Israeli scientists felt "humiliated" by government slashes to university research budgets, Dan Shechtman, who was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, told Israel Radio on Thursday.

Shechtman, a professor at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, was awarded the prize on Wednesday for his discovery of patterns in atoms called quasicrystals, a chemical structure that researchers previously thought was impossible.

Prof. Dan Shechtman
Michal Chelbin

Many educators in the sciences, and in chemistry in particular, viewed Wednesday's announcement by the Nobel Prize Committee as an opportunity to sound a warning about the deterioration of the status of the exact sciences in Israel. Shechtman's prize, they said, is a product of an education system that no longer exists.

Shechtman Wednesday joined the critics of science education in Israel, telling Haaretz that while teachers should serve as role models, the low wages paid to teachers here do not attract the kind of individuals who deserve to be role models.

"Today, Israel is still producing world-class scientists," Shechtman said. "But unless changes are made, the output will dwindle over the years. I believe the teachers understand the material, but in order to get to where they can pass it on, you need to bring good people into teaching, and [science] education must begin at a very early age."

Speaking to Israel Radio on Thursday, the Israeli scientist referred to extensive government cuts to Israel's higher education budget throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century, saying: "We felt humiliated as scientists."

"It didn't seem that the State of Israel saw any importance in our work, and that manifested itself in massive budget cuts," Shechtman said, adding, however "that the educational system has taken recent steps, as opposed to previous periods which were very bad."

"For [Israel to have] scientists we need to educate them from kindergarten, so universities can have people who aspire to be scientists," he said, adding that "children must be given a good example, and the ones who can do that is the teachers."

"If the teachers can serve as role models, and they're positive and they carry the banner of progress, literacy, science and free thought, the students follow," Shechtman said.