August 16, 2007
ORT’s Israel schools meld technology and tikkun olam
(Page 2 - Previous Page)"We need to strengthen Israel's economic situation," Peleg said. "If we want [Israel] to be economically independent, we have to motivate our children to choose science and technology."
Do children want to choose science and technology?
Some, like Yakir Menachem, say they always dreamed of it. But the blond-haired, blue-eyed Israeli boy from Holon, in the central region, never got along with his teachers and had to leave school. In ninth grade he came to ORT Tel Nof, an aviation high school that feeds graduates to the Israeli air force. Now in 11th grade, he studies mechatronics (mechanical electronics) and is preparing for the Bagrut (matriculation exam).
"I always wanted to do the Bagrut, but I didn't know if I could," he said. He hopes to serve in the air force. "I am not sure I will do this profession when I grow up, but I am sure that it gives me a knowledge that if I want to go to a higher school, it will help me."
In addition to skilled technicians and practical engineers, ORT Israel is aiming its sights on Israel's top students, such as Maxim Savcheko who studies at ORT Givat Ram in Jerusalem.
Featuring 1,000 high school students and 600 junior high students, Hebrew University-adjacent ORT Givat Ram is the biggest high school in Jerusalem and is one of four ORT Israel schools in the nation's capital. Twenty-five percent of the students are from families who came from the former Soviet Union.
Savcheko, 17, was one of five Givat Ram students going to the RoboCup junior competition in Atlanta this past June.
"We designed a rescue robot that searches for wounded victims after a terror attack," he said of his and Leo Sarikas' foot-high creation of wood, wires and circuits, a project that combines ORT Israel's mottos of technology and charity. "Every component of the robot was designed by us."
Although ORT Israel educates about 10 percent of the Israeli public school population, Peleg's dreams are bigger than running 167 junior high, high schools and colleges.
"We get students after elementary school and it's too late," he said. ORT Israel is a "holistic program. We want ORT Israel to take care of students from kindergarten through high school."
Does ORT Israel plan to take over the entire Israeli educational system?
Peleg laughs, as if the idea has never occurred to him, even though many times during ORT Israel's four-day sponsored press trip, which this reporter participated in, he made statements like "Mass education is bound to fail," and "Government should set the standards and others should run the schools."
For now, Peleg said, "I am not going to replace the government. I think if I can show the government [how well this works] the government will adopt the program."
Melchior would be glad to hear this, because he believes systems like ORT Israel only work well within the framework of government. "ORT is strengthening the level of education, giving the kids the content the public system can't," Melchior said. "I do believe the state has to take full responsibility.... If it comes instead of the state, it's catastrophic."
Of course, ORT Israel is nowhere near a takeover of the entire Israeli educational system, but has the organization extended itself too far? ORT Israel now teaches science and technology to junior high, high school, technical school and colleges, at both the technical and professional levels, hoping to attract students in the periphery, minorities and the impoverished, as well as the top students in the country. Not to mention give them a well-rounded education with a foundation in Jewish values.
Peleg shrugs it all off. He's been called a megalomaniac and worse. All he's interested in is educating the Israeli youth.
"Education is the celebration of creativity," he said. "The youth are the future of Israel."
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