Innovation nation: entrepreneurial learning in Israel

This is the first in the Vocational Education Exchange autumn series of good practice in Enterprise and Entrepreneurship case studies from the European Training Foundation. Look out for more good practice examples coming up in November and December. 

Israel boasts the highest number of high-tech start-ups, and the largest venture capital industry, per capita, in the world (Israel Venture Capital Research Centre). As a leading technological and science education network, ORT is helping to feed this successful entrepreneurial eco-system through initiatives catering for more than 100,000 secondary students.

One such initiative is ORT’s Technological Entrepreneurship Programme, which prepares final-year technical and vocational education students to enter the high-tech and entrepreneurial world of work.

Mentored by business leaders, the participating students work together in multidisciplinary teams, under teacher guidance, to identify a market need, and then design and take a product to market. In so doing, they experience the full entrepreneurial cycle, from idea to reality.

Following a successful pilot in 2013, the programme now encompasses six schools across the ORT network, involving more than 160 16-to-18-year-olds and 24 teachers.

Nobel Prize Laureate in Chemistry Dan Shechtman, who sits on the programme’s steering committee, says: ‘hi-tech, creativity and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. The idea is to teach every child in Israel entrepreneurship, like you teach mathematics, physics, chemistry and English.’

TURNING IDEAS INTO REALITY

A key aspect of the programme is that no school budget or specialist technical equipment is made available for product development. Students must find financial backing and partners from the outside world, source second-hand components online, and convince enterprises to let them use their facilities, outside of working hours, to produce their prototype.

It’s all part of the aim of creating an alternative studying environment, as science and engineering teacher, Oren Lamdan, says: ‘it’s real-life learning! We encourage the students to take risks, initiate and innovate.’

For student May Shushan, the approach is working. ‘When we meet companies, we realise we are doing something real,’ she says. ‘I feel like a grown up, like it’s my job and I want to do it. It’s fun!’

Another important feature of the programme is its moral purpose. Students must address a social challenge when developing their ideas, emphasising that entrepreneurship is not just a way to get rich, but a means of increasing social capital.

STEERED TOWARDS SUCCESS

Entrepreneurship is about daring to try, and, if you don’t succeed, about having the courage to start all over again. That’s why achievement in the programme is not based on the success of the final product — the students may not even produce a final product. Instead, achievement is measured on how well they tackle challenges they encounter on the way.

Through their entrepreneurial journey, students gain vital life and work skills and self-confidence. It helps them develop entrepreneurial and innovative thinking, as well as essential teamwork and communication skills. Whether they go on to set up their own business or not, they are better equipped for success in the real-life world of work.

There are benefits for the school, too. Students are more motivated, seeing first-hand how academic subjects apply in the real world. Links with the local business community are also strengthened.

Above all, the programme is instrumental in changing the learning paradigm. The teacher is no longer the source of all knowledge, but a guide and coach to support the students to achieve their learning goals. Getting teachers to make the shift from ‘master’ to ‘mentor’ is an important step that requires leadership and investment in teacher development.

Top tips for a successful entrepreneurship programme:

  • get students to work autonomously in multidisciplinary teams 
  • bring in mentors from the business world
  • focus on the whole entrepreneurial journey, from idea to marketable product
  • encourage students to seek financial backers and partners in the outside world
  • assess students on their success in accomplishing the different steps in the process, rather than on the success of their product.

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