DataPoint: The kids who are building an airplane

datapoint logoIn this episode, DataPoint host Maya Dolgin tells the story of the Yerucham Science Center, talking with the director of the Center, Asaf Shalev, and with some of the students involved in its programs.

The Yerucham Science Center is an educational institute that runs a number of programs for kids of different ages, both during and outside of school. Delving into the Center’s activities provides insight into Israel’s education system and, more particularly, on its possible role in promoting economic growth while at the same time helping to reduce inequalities.

As Asaf explains, one of the major challenges in the education system today is not knowing what jobs will exist in the future and, thus, what skills are most important for students to learn now so that they are prepared for these jobs. “We defined the skills that we think are required for the future working labor and the main one is self-esteem and the ability to learn yourself,” says Asaf.

Asaf Shalev, Director of the Yerucham Science Center, with DataPoint host, Maya Dolgin

Asaf Shalev, Director of the Yerucham Science Center, with DataPoint host, Maya Dolgin

Improving skill levels is important not just for students’ futures on the individual level, but also for the future of Israel’s economic growth. Taub Center research shows that Israel’s most productive industries – like high-tech – have very little room left to grow, at least in the short term, because there aren’t enough Israelis with the relevant skills who are likely to join the high tech sector. Almost all of those with the necessary skills are either already working in the high tech sector or are working in other lucrative occupations. This is all the more reason to make sure the next generation is sufficiently trained in the skills needed for an ever-developing and increasingly technological future labor market.

Asaf and the rest of the staff at the Science Center are trying to teach these skills to students through a variety of programs including robotics, drones, satellite, and an exciting new two-year project to build an entire airplane from scratch!

Putting a student-built drone to the test!

Putting a student-built drone to the test!

Osher Azran, a student who is in the robotics group, the drones group, and the airplane group is particularly excited about the airplane project. As she puts it, “We feel on top of the world because usually nobody gives kids our age the opportunity to build something like this. It’s very special.”

Osher Azran hard at work in the Science Center

Osher Azran hard at work in the Science Center

When we went to the Center, we found the place buzzing with activity – kids were putting together parts, working on coding at a computer, and demoing last year’s competition robot for us. They all seem extremely passionate about what they are doing. One boy we spoke with – Eyal – told us excitedly about all of the Center’s activities even though he had only joined this past summer.

Students coding at the Yerucham Science Center

Students coding at the Yerucham Science Center

Increasing the formal study of technological-vocational education in high schools has been a goal of Israel’s Ministry of Education in recent years, spurred by the ever-increasing pace of technological change and the changes we predict this will bring to the future labor market. Israeli high schools have different tracks – both academic and technological – and there has really been a rise in the share of students in technology education. The percentage of 12th graders enrolled in technological education has risen from 33% to 40%. Moreover, Taub Center researchers found that the share of students in the highest technological tracks, such as computer systems and mechatronics, has risen by 40% in the last decade.

The story of girls studying in the high technological tracks is a complex one. While a higher percentage of Arab Israeli girls study in high technological education than the boys, only a small percentage of Jewish girls study in these tracks, and the percentage is particularly low in the State-religious education system. It’s possible that single-sex schools in the State-religious education stream lead to fewer options for religious girls because only 18% of religious girls’ schools even offer these tracks of study, compared to 48% of other schools.

A robot from last year’s competition

A robot from last year’s competition

Rotem is a student and an all-girls State-religious school in Yerucham. She is the captain of her robotics group, and is on both the mechanics team and the media team. Tchelet also goes to the religious girls’ high school and is caption of the y-bot robotics team. Her motivation is clear – “I want to win!” she told us.

Tchelet Cohen putting together parts at the Yerucham Science Center

Tchelet Cohen putting together parts at the Yerucham Science Center

In the episode, Asaf explains how the Center managed to integrate girls into the robotics team (at first, not many girls showed interest in the team) by taking a group of 8th grade girls, telling them “you’re the robotics team of Yerucham,” and not lowering their standards. The girls won the competition in Israel, and returned to Yerucham heroes. “We don’t have to do anything anymore,” says Asaf. “They opened the door for girls in robotics.”

Awards won in past robotics competitions

Awards won in past robotics competitions

Asaf himself has an interesting story to tell. He worked in high-tech in Tel Aviv until about four years ago when his company downsized and he found himself close to age 50 and deciding that it was time to fulfill some of his non-high-tech dreams. He moved to Yerucham to teach math and work with the Science Center, and has been living there ever since.

At the end of the day, Asaf and the Center’s main goal is quite simple: “We want to give any child in Yerucham the ability when he graduates school to choose what he wants to do in his life, rather than life choosing for him.”

 

More on the Taub Center podcast

In the Taub Center’s podcast, DataPoint, we zoom in from Israel’s bigger socioeconomic trends and focus on real stories. Who are the people – the millions of data points – who stand behind the numbers? How do their individual journeys embody or complicate the trends we see at the macro level?

You can subscribe to DataPoint on iTunes, Stitcher, or in any other app where you listen to podcasts. Be in touch at podcast@taubcenter.org.il.

Thank you to the Herbert M. and Nell Singer Foundation for making this episode possible! For more information about sponsoring future episodes, contact michalp@taubcenter.org.il.

Thanks to the Eastern Instruments Orchestra of Yerucham-Dimona for the musical score for this episode.

Thanks to the awesome team at Podcastico for editing and sound, and for all of their work to make this podcast episode possible.