Pitango Founder: Education Is Key to Israel's Future

"We need a strong education system," Chemi Peres, managing general partner and co-founder of the Pitango Venture Capital, told his audience at the Ra'anana Conference for National High Tech Policy, held Tuesday. "It is our army. It's where the thinking soldiers who form the foundation for Israel's future are raised. In that army, Yuli Tamir is our chief of staff. The education system is our most important and most influential undertaking in this country."

"I believe in the statement by Winston Churchill," Peres said, "that the empire of tomorrow is the empire of the mind. Israel is a small country with a small market. We must use export policy to become a country of science and technology. For that, we need a high-tech industry. And we also have to invest in education and research and development (R&D). The greatest challenge facing Israel is competition. Every country in the world invests in R&D and in high-tech, and I don't have to tell you what is happening in India and China. We will never catch up with them in terms of the number of graduates the education system produces each year. That is a lost battle. On the other hand, if Israel is not on the forefront of high-tech, we will not be able to attract investors to invest in companies and to develop the economy. We will never achieve economic independence," warned Peres.

Education Minister Prof. Yuli Tamir, said that with all due respect to the technological education, considerable resources still need to be invested in students to develop analytic thinking ability.

"This is perhaps one of the most neglected fields in the education system," noted Tamir, "the ability to think and overcome a situation. We must not forget that we are discussing technology and education."

Conference participants were informed that the Israeli education system has one computer for every 14 students (there are 1.6 million students in the system) and that about one third of the 100,000 students graduating this year studied sciences (chemistry, biology or physics) at an advanced level.

Elisha Yanay, chairman of the Israel Association of Electronics & Information Industries and CEO of Motorola Israel, said that one of the toughest problems is the lack of engineers graduating from Israel's academic institutions each year.

"We are interested in increasing annual sales from Israel's high-tech industries to $32 billion, from their current level of $19 billion," said Yanay. "To do that, we will need 320,000 workers in the Israeli high-tech industry, and today there are only 220,000 workers. We must increase the number of students studying technology at schools, with the aim of reaching a figure of 16,000 engineers entering the job market each year. That is the most important issue we need to address."