In the south of Israel, surrounded by desert views and wide open spaces filled with colorful spring blossoms, elementary school children are blooming too thanks to a new, unique educational program which seeks to promote the study of STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math. The project is focused on schools in the city of Kiryat Gat and the regional councils of Lachish and Shafir, and is “tailored” for each school to match its individual character, community and local industry.
The project draws inspiration from the world of informal education, pulling together content that suits the technological developments of the 21st Century and modern thinking in a way in which the existing elements of the education system complement and support the invention of an entirely new method extending beyond the current system.
Elementary school is a critical developmental stage for students before they move on to middle and high school, and are able to put the tools attained with this program to wider use. The main audience for this project is all students from the region who study at a variety of schools – including the public schools, religious-public schools, and ultra-Orthodox schools. All planning has been carried out in complete coordination and cooperation with top officials from the Ministry of Education’s national program which promotes math education as a necessary key l for students’ futures.
In order to ensure that all the relevant elements are included in the project and its implementation, the Partnership2Gether program (on behalf of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago which has been investing in improving residents’ lives in this area for 25 years), asked the Davidson Institute of Science Education - the educational arm of the Weizmann Institute of Science – to join forces with Beit Yatziv – a non-profit run by the Rashi Foundation and the Municipality of Beersheba.
The teams work together with the relevant educational departments and are in direct communication with teachers, principals, and students. Individual meetings are held with the teaching staff at schools committed to teaching with a focus on STEM skills and creating learning spaces that work with a STEM approach. Additionally, middle school students help gain relevant scientific knowledge through enrichment activities with young students from the area. Key industry players such as Intel are also involved and help promote initiatives connected to the project, forming a network of active partners who create a regional ecosystem to promote STEM education.
Even now, when teachers and students need to stay at home because of corona virus, the program continues to adjust and make the necessary adaptations to support virtual learning and real time instruction for students. This is how the use of technological tools has already been implemented in order to offer students sitting at home experiential enrichment in the world of science.
Will an answer come from the south? Perhaps – but what is certain is this is an integral, long-term and innovative process with the goal of changing the culture of learning and teaching and preparing students for the future.
The author is the director of the Partnership2Gether program in Kiryat Gat, Lachish and Shafir-Chicago.