'Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is,' Parents of Robotics Champions Tell Education Ministry

In addition to $3,000 cost of participation, parents must also pay for three teachers joining group.

The Education Ministry will not pay for a high-school delegation's trip to the United States to represent Israel in an international robotics competition at the end of the month.

The students' parents are outraged at being required to pay more than $3,000 for each student's trip, despite the ministry's pledge to strengthen scientific-technological education and robotics.

The National Robotics Competition in Yad Eliyahu last year.
Nir Keidar

In addition, the parents must pay for the three teachers joining the group.

Israeli students who won first prizes at the National Robotics Competition in Tel Aviv last month were chosen to take part in the FIRST Robotics Competition in St. Louis, Missouri later this month.

"In our group, fewer than 10 students carried out their robotics work as part of the school's activity, and we're being asked to pay thousands of dollars to fly three teachers to the competition," said the mother of a student at Tel Aviv's Ironi Daled high school, whose team won first place in robotics and second place in the national championship.

"The Education Ministry and the school cannot take credit for the students' achievements without backing them fully," the mother said. "Winning the national competition is great, but the parents shouldn't be the ones to pay for the trip to the competition in the United States and they certainly shouldn't be paying for three teachers' trips."

Education Ministry officials say the competition in St. Louis is not official educational activity but an event organized by an outside organization. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology ) is an international non-profit organization that steers pupils to science and technology.

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar opened the National Robotics Competition, held by FIRST in Tel Aviv's Nokia Hall last month, and schools from all over Israel took part in it.

The ministry has launched a program to strengthen scientific-technological education - "empowering the robotics field; exposure to robotics at all ages to encourage high-level thinking and as a gateway to the world of technology."

At the FIRST competitions, student teams from all over the world put their robots through different tasks. Some 200,000 youths participate annually, along with about 85,000 teachers, guides and volunteers.

Thousands of Israeli youths participate in 250 teams in regional and national competitions with the Education Ministry's encouragement, culminating in the international robotics competition.

"It's shocking that when it comes to outstanding students such as these, the Education Ministry hesitates, promises only partial financing and imposes on the students and their parents a fine for their excellence - about $3,000 each for the trip, and an additional $1,000 each for the school teachers joining them," said a parent.

In a letter to the Education Ministry asking it to fund the trip, members of the Israeli team wrote: "Winning the prize lets us take part in the international competition in St. Louis with 80 student teams from around the world. We hope you can help us fulfill a dream ... we're proud of the opportunity we've received to represent the state at such an event. It's the summit of every participant's dream. But the trip's expenses, most of which our parents must cover, are heavy."

The students, in grades 7 through 9, have yet to raise the required funds.

"Every contribution, no matter how small, will help us," they wrote to the ministry. "Companies that sponsor us will be advertised during the competition's three days on the team's shirts, flags and posters."

The pupils have received no response from the Education Ministry.

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