Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel should view the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) results, released Tuesday and showing a significant decrease in the ranking of Israeli eighth-graders in math and science since 2011, as a "national emergency" that should propel the country to invest more in math and science education.
The study showed that Israeli students dropped from 7th to 16th in math and 13th to 19th in science.
"To all those who needed further proof that we need to revolutionize our math and science educational system, the results of these tests… prove it is now a national emergency," said Bennett in a statement.
"For the future of our country and (to educate our) potential future Nobel Prize winners, we will continue to push our students to study math at the highest levels even in the face of criticism," he concluded.
The TIMSS results coincided with the first International Summit for Start-Up Education of Israel Sci-Tech schools, held Tuesday and Wednesday in Jerusalem and chaired by Technion Prof. Dan Shechtman, winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.
Shechtman told Tazpit Press Service (TPS) that despite the TIMSS results, Israel's educational system excels in high-tech and innovation.
"We have a very high-standard of science and technology education in our universities while also maintaining relatively good vocational education as well," he said.
Shechtman explained that Israeli students are pressured to pursue university studies, largely as a result of encouragement at the high school, or even primary school levels to pursue technology careers. At the same time, however, he said Israeli society has a tendency to overlook the quality and importance of vocational education. In his view, that's a mistake.
"People forget that that there are many developed countries, such as Switzerland, where only a very small percentage of youngsters even go to general high schools, and instead proceed directly to vocational high schools.
"We need to come back to the old way of teaching technicians, like we did 20–30 years ago. Many could become great professionals, working with computers or other machines and earning very good salaries. We should invest more in their advancement," he said.
When asked about the challenges of educating youths in a changing world, Shechtman argued that the key to adaptation is a strong foundation in the basics.
"When you come to study in any science field, you are definitely not the most advanced technologically savvy in the world because you cannot know what the future holds. But if you teach the basics properly, then the sum total of our universities can very easily adapt to new technology because they hold solid underpinnings," he argued.
Also in concert with the conference, the Ministries of Economy, Immigrant Absorption and Finance, as well as the Planning and Budgeting Committee at the Council for Higher Education have created an Israel National Brain Gain Program as a cooperative project to reverse the "brain drain" trend which has seen many Israeli academics leaving the country for foreign pastures in recent years.
"Israel has a high-quality teaching system, but our greatest asset is our human potential." said Professor Shechtman.
Article reprinted with permission from TPS