American airplane manufacturer Lockheed Martin will open science-oriented preschools in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem municipality announced on Thursday.
The preschool is part of a larger Lockheed Martin project called MadaKids; similar preschools have already been opened in Be’er Sheva and Kiryat Malachi in cooperation with the Education Ministry.
The company, which makes the F-35 stealth fighter jet, runs educational projects in several countries, but the preschools are unique to Israel. As part of this project, it also plans to fund robotics courses for first and second graders who graduate from its kindergartens.
The Education Ministry said it has no problem with commercial companies setting up preschools as long as they don’t introduce commercial content into the curriculum.
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The MadaKids preschools, which are open to both kindergarteners and pre-kindergarteners, are part of the secular state school system. The Jerusalem school will open in September in the Kiryat Menachem neighborhood, and the registration process will be the same as for any municipal preschool.
Lockheed Martin said it only pays for the preschools’ science curriculum, not the entire curriculum. Its funding also covers renovations to support the technological orientation, such as constructing “science and technology stations” in the classroom.
“We’re supporting them financially, but we don’t have teachers in the preschools and we’re not intervening in the programming or curriculum,” said Joshua Shani, CEO of Lockheed Martin Israel.
Shani said it costs about $250,000 to set up such a preschool, and Lockheed Martin covers the bulk of this cost. The remaining funds will come from the Rashi Foundation and the Jerusalem municipality.
The teachers will be trained by the Rashi Foundation’s pedagogical institute, Beit Yatziv.
“Our preschools are an Israeli innovation in every respect, and already, delegations have arrived from other countries, like Korea and Germany, that are thinking of going in a similar direction,” Shani said.
The company deliberately opened its preschools in socioeconomically weak areas of the country, Shani added. But so far, they have no Arab students.
Lockheed Martin’s involvement in preschools “isn’t logical,” Shani admitted. “But the moment a commercial company wants to contribute to the community, it becomes worthwhile. We could have set up a research institute on military aviation worldwide, but we went in the direction of education because that’s what fires us up.”
The municipality said that teachers are now “taking workshops which combine research, observation and experiments, which will be applied later to lessons and activities in the preschool.”
Lockheed Martin said its goal is “to develop the children’s technological and scientific thinking skills and abilities.” It added that it hopes its schools will serve as a model for other Israeli preschools and thereby “assist in creating a new generation of citizens with a highly technological orientation.”
The company has also sponsored or co-sponsored educational activities for older students, including the finals of a Lego competition for third and fourth graders in the Tel Aviv area, “cyber summer camps” for girls about to enter tenth grade, and a cyber competition for high school students whose other partners include the Israel Defense Forces Cyber Command.