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Israeli schools will embrace computers and harness the Internet within five years, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar announced at the Herzliya Conference yesterday. And for the first time, Israeli students will also be tested on their computer skills as part of a number of international assessment tests, said Sa'ar.

The new computerization plan will include improving computer infrastructure: connecting schools to broadband Internet, providing students with laptops and expanding the use of "smart classrooms" with computers and screens instead of blackboards.

There will be pedagogical changes too: Syllabi will be adapted to computerized instruction and teachers will receive training and a research and testing process will be devised to accompany the computerization process.

The ministry's computerization proposal will be presented to the cabinet. Sa'ar did not say yesterday how much the plan will cost, but did say he would recommend implementing it first in the often-overlooked north and south of the country.

"The price we will pay on missing the opportunity to adapt the educational system to new technology is unbearable. I believe that the government will not miss the opportunity," he said, adding that preparing the educational system for the digital age was a necessity and not optional. "We must close the gap between the real life environment and the learning environment."

A survey conducted by the Center for Educational Technology in advance of the conference found that 52 percent of 11th and 12th graders said school does not prepare them for the future and does not provide them with the necessary tools for the workplace.

In addition, 82 percent of students said they wanted to come to school only with a laptop, which would replace all their present books.