school competition
The winning teams after their triumph last week. Photo by Nir Keidar
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Parents of school students chosen to represent Israel in an international robotics contest in the United States are being forced to pay the full costs of their trip to the United States, despite the Education Ministry having announced a campaign to boost technological education in Israel earlier this week. The ministry takes part in organizing the Israeli qualifying competition and has prided itself on the achievements of local teams in the past.

The competition, organized by the First ‏(“For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”‏) organization, took place in Tel Aviv two weeks ago. The contestants compete in building and operating robots, and the junior high contest this year was won by two teams, one from Yehud and one from Ra’anana, which were invited to register for the world First competition, to be held in St. Louis, Missouri, in late April.

“Our pride and joy at our children winning the competition were quickly replaced with a feeling of distress when we found out we’ll have to sponsor the trip ourselves,” said Nira Shavit of Ra’anana, mother of one of the students.

“It’s hard for me to understand how the ministry speaks loftily about the importance of technological education but fails to help us sponsor the travel to this prestigious competition,” another parent, Ilana Ben Haim of Ra’anana, said. “It’s so frustrating to be begging for charity for such an important goal. Encouraging students to excel in technological studies is hard enough as it is.”

The parents told Haaretz that the cost of the trip is estimated at $3,000 per students, with half the sum covering the flight tickets alone. “We knew we’d need to cover some of the costs, but never thought we’ll be paying for the entire trip,” said Ben Haim. Other parents said that one student has already decided not to travel to the competition, because of the prohibitive cost.

Last week, the parents sent requests for help to various potential sponsors, including Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, the municipalities and President Shimon Peres, whose office told them to write to the Education Ministry and the Ra’anana municipality. The Education Ministry did not respond at all. The municipality agreed to support the traveling expenses of two adults accompanying the student team, and the parents are now trying to raise funds from non-governmental sources, including businessmen, to support the trip.

“So far we’ve raised NIS 10,000,” said Ben Haim. “We’ve been looking for sponsors ever since the kids won the competition. It’s embarrassing.”

One of the team members, Dan Onter, told Haaretz: “It was all fun but now it turns out there’s no funding. We’re trying to represent the country but it seems nobody really cares.”

The education ministry confirmed to Haaretz that it had received the parents’ plea for funding, but did not comment on the request itself.