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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Israel’s education secret: It’s not the schools

Israel is a global leader in technology, despite its small size, writes Naftali Bennett, a former high-tech CEO and now Minister of Education, in the Wall Street Journal. A “shadow education system” teaches young Israelis to be entrepreneurs.

Israeli teens lead younger children in youth groups, then serve in the military at the age of 18.

The first component is the Jewish heritage of debate, he writes. Religious Jews study the Talmud, a collection of analyses of the legal code, by debating questions in pairs. Students “analyse issues from all directions, finding different solutions,” he writes. “Multiple answers to a single question are common.”

In Israeli youth groups, teenagers lead younger children “on excursions and hikes, develop informal curricula, and are responsible for those in their care,” writes Bennett.

Finally, there’s the army: 18-year-old boys and girls serve for two or three years.

Young Israeli adults must literally make life-or-death decisions every day. As a 23-year-old officer in 1995, I led 70 soldiers behind enemy lines. The covert mission required me to prepare my troops, mobilise people and equipment, build contingency plans, and function under immense physical and mental pressure. These situations teach a person how to execute plans — or adapt and improvise.

“Schools provide a base of literacy, mathematics and social interaction,” concludes Bennett, but what makes a difference takes place outside the classroom. “Real-life tasks show young adults how much they are capable of achieving.”

In the U.S., also a nation that turns out entrepreneurs and innovators, the “secret sauce” is extracurriculars, argued Mike Petrilli in 2012. After school, U.S. teens are engaged in all sorts of activities — but not cram school.

. . . Sports, music, theater, student council, cheerleading, volunteering, church activities, and on and on. If you are looking for sources of innovative thinking, leadership and teamwork skills, competitiveness, and creativity, aren’t these better candidates than math class?

June Kronholz makes the case for extra-curriculars.

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