Desperately seeking STEM: Ministry works to promote cyber-education

In  a bid to ensure that Israel retains its edge in cyber-security, the the Science and Technology Ministry on Wednesday signed a deal with Lockheed Martin to produce educational curricula in science and technology, with an emphasis on teaching the principles of cyber-security.

The objective is to create a new generation of tech experts who will ensure that Israel remains a leader in technology development – especially in cyber-security. There are currently more than 300 cyber-security start-ups in Israel, and those companies, along with veteran security firms like CheckPoint, attracted 10% of all cyber-security investments worldwide, government statistics show.

“Studies show that there is a major gap in technology and science education between children from different economic backgrounds,” said Science and Technology Minister Danny Danon at the signing of the agreement with Patrick Dewar, executive vice-president of LM. “These gaps begin to develop at the kindergarten level. Ensuring that all children have an opportunity to learn science and technology is essential to the future of Israel,” said Danon.

Danon had good reason to work out a cyber-education deal with LM, because that company has already amassed a great deal of experience in educating Israeli kids on STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – programs.

“Our relationship with the Israeli education system started in 2014 when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met our CEO, Marillyn Hewson,” said Joshua (Shiki) Shani, CEO of Lockheed Martin Israel. “We signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Education, and allocated budgets and experts to create a program to advance cyber-education in Israel.”

As a result of that agreement, LM has over the past year sponsored a number of programs to train instructors to more effectively teach STEM, the building block subjects of a career in cyber-security or any other tech field. Last year, for example, LM hosted a Vision of the Future Cyber-Security Roundtable, to provide a forum for government, industry and academia to share their perspectives on cyber education. LM also held a conference called People & Computers EduNation, where education professionals swapped ideas and techniques for teaching STEM.

In addition, LM sponsored the top three team prizes for SkillZ, Israel’s first national high school cyber competition. Over 2,000 students from seventy high schools across Israel participated, accompanied by mentors from the local high-tech industry and academia.

Upcoming in August will be Israel’s first girls-only cyber summer camp in Israel. The participants will include 70 female students transitioning from the 9th to 10th grade. The program will include a four-day sleep over camp August 10-13, 2015 at Tel Aviv University.

LM, a US defense firm, opened its first office in Israel in 2014. Although primarily a defense system developer, especially in the areas of missile defense, radar, and aircraft systems, it is also a major supplier of cyber-security and information technology services to the US government, as well as to many Fortune 500 companies, Hewson said on a visit to Israel last year.

But despite the best efforts of government and industry, statistics show that STEM is still a hard sell. Kids, it appears, are intimidated by math and science, and prefer “easier” subjects. It’s a major problem around the world, including in the US.

“Ninety-seven percent of US high schools do not teach STEM effectively enough to provide students with real-life skills that will enable them to get into advance tech programs in colleges,” and neither kids, parents, nor school boards are demanding those subjects, according to Rick Geritz, one of the world’s foremost experts on cyber-education. “That’s a real shame, because right now there are 380,000 jobs open in just the cyber-security area in the US that are going unfilled because companies can’t find qualified workers.”

In Israel, too, many such jobs go begging, according to Eviatar Matania, head of the Israel’s National Cyber-Security Bureau, who along with Geritz appeared Monday at a special roundtable discussion on promoting cyber-education in institutions and among students. Israel, too, is searching for ways to encourage more students to study STEM subjects.

Participating with Matania in the Tel Aviv University event, called Cyber-Education: Building Our Future Workforce, was Geritz, who heads an organization called LifeJourney, a technology company whose online career simulation and mentorship program enables students to “test drive” their future by living a day in the life of America’s STEM leaders. Also participating were Oded Vanunu of Checkpoint; Nissan Maskil, IAI; Hemi Pecker, Lockheed Martin; Prof. Shlomi Dolev, Ministry of Education; Sagy Bar, Rashi Foundation; and Yaniv Harel, EMC.

Geritz was the keynote speaker at the event, describing how his organization promotes motivation among students for cyber-education. “To inspire change today you need an effective marketing plan, making the issue relevant to students,” said Geritz. “Our LifeJourney site has as a centerpiece a map of the Washington, DC, area where cyber-security jobs are available. Students can click on a job, see how much they can earn, find out what the job is all about, as well as what the qualification are.

“The idea is to turn cyber-security pros into ‘rock stars,’ celebrating their achievements, lifestyles, and especially career opportunities,” said Geritz. “Students are much more likely to be attracted to STEM studies with a program like this.”

In addition, the LifeJourney also connects students with mentors working at firms ranging from innovative start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. Students can watch videos about what the mentors do, ask questions on-line, and participate in on-line “field trips” where they search for answers to specific questions with mentors. Currently, the program covers Maryland and the Washington, DC, area, but Geritz hopes to expand it to the rest of the US, as well as to Israel.

Matania welcomes any help Israel can get in this area. “We have several ideas about how to do this, but what LifeJourney is doing is very interesting and important, and worthy of emulation,” he said. “To keep our edge, we need to invest significant resources now in encouraging STEM education, both in institutions and among students. It might take ten years for these efforts to pay off, but there is no question this effort is necessary.”

Source: The Times of Israel 

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