"Start-up nation is not being sustained"

Mooly Eden

Intel Israel President Mooly Eden writes that falling educational standards threaten Israel's high-tech future.

In popular TV cooking programs they often try to put their finger on what is "the flavor of Israel." I also sometimes attempt to figure out the secret and elusive ingredient of "Israeliness," and explain it in meetings around the world, particularly when the phrase "start-up nation" comes up. How did a certain people manage after several thousand years in exile to return to live in a "challenging" region and despite all the difficulties become an international success story, and a source of inspiration, even an object of envy, for well-established nations that are larger and richer than us.

Is it because Israelis are smarter? Has reality taught us to "think on the run", and is the ability to improvise perhaps our winning card? Or maybe Israel's "chaos" caused us to break conventions and think outside the box, and differently from other engineers around the world.

Although I haven't found the perfect answer, I do know that the pleasant reality we have recently enjoyed is going away and slipping through our fingers. We can still wear the badge of "start-up nation" with justifiable pride, but it seems that many forget that the fruits we are picking are from seeds sown two or three decades ago through government investment policy, encouragement of high-tech companies, investment in academia, the Russian-speaking immigration, and a focus on education.

The problem is that since then we have not bothered to plant enough new seeds, and we have not been watering or nurturing them as we should, so that we can continue to pick fruits in the coming decade.

The facts speak for themselves. In the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) Index, Israel is ranked 40th out of 64 nations participating in math and science tests. The State Comptroller has pointed out that mathematics suffers from many years of neglect. According to Ministry of Education figures, the number of students taking five units (the highest level) in their matriculation exams plummeted from 12,885 in 2007 to 8,869 in 2012. This figure is really "scary."

Let us glance for a moment into the future and use the math we learned at school: graduates from 2007 spent three years in the army and then four years at university including the Technion. They are the ones knocking on the doors of high tech companies today. From the numbers previously quoted we can expect lower numbers of students completing five units of math matriculation and a decline in the number of graduates reaching the high-tech industry.

Already today, the industry is forced to forego projects because of the difficulty in hiring engineers and suitable technological personnel. And if the number of math graduates continues to fall, the high-tech industry is doomed to see its performance decline because of a lack of quality personnel. This raises a disturbing question - will all the investment so far go down the drain? Perhaps the problem starts in the way that most people here view the high-tech industry.

When I took my first steps in the field, this was really an industry with hardware and software people trying to solve challenges, and transform bits of silicon and printed circuit boards into reality. Today, when we talk about high tech we mostly think of an "exit," or in other words, "how to make a handsome profit and move on to the next round." When the model worth emulating is the start-up entrepreneur who has made a fortune and not the engineer who goes every morning to interesting and challenging work, then we have somewhat lost direction.

I've nothing against exits. I take my hat off to those who bring a revolutionary concept into reality and make a handsome profit on the way. This is perfectly valid, and its contribution to Israel's reputation is great and important. But if we want to continue the momentum and not sink, there is no other way but to invest in technological and scientific education that will train and put onto the market here the quantity of the best engineers and scientists in the world required for the industry to grow and move forward.

We at Intel, alongside other high tech companies in Israel, believe that investment in education is an investment in the future of the State of Israel. We cannot and we don't want to fulfill the role of the Ministry of Education but we do indeed invest time and resources in cooperation with the Ministry of Education in order to assist in the areas in which we excel. Our aim is to reverse the trend of weakening in scientific studies that has become so substantial in recent years, and support math, science and technology studies so that young Israelis will be on a par with engineers anywhere else in the world, and with the help of that secret and elusive Israeli ingredient will cross the finishing line first.

The author is Intel Israel President and Senior VP Intel Corp. To mark 40 years of operations in Israel, Intel is holding an international education conference next week in Jerusalem.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on June 16, 2014

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2014

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