I’ve seen the future. The promise of innovative education is rapidly becoming reality in Israel.
From learning assistants powered by next-gen AI, to workplace virtual training, to cutting-edge simulation software that makes costly LEGO learning progams like Mindstorms accessible to all students, Israeli education technology is at the global forefront of innovation.
During the two weeks that I just spent in Israel, I saw Education’s “next thing,” and then the “thing after that.” It was inspirational.
It’s almost become cliché to say that Israel – Start-up Nation – is an innovative powerhouse. By any metric: the Bloomberg Innovation Ranking, the number of global corporate giants with labs and facilities in Israel, the number of US patents or IPO filings Israel is unquestionably the tip of the innovation spear.
Named the “second best place for innovation in the world” by the World Economic Forum, Israel has become an idea factory, churning out advances and innovations in an impressive array of industries: Cybersecurity, Water, FinTech, AgriTech, autonomous driving, digital health…the list goes on.
Some have said that EdTech was the one area that was slow to gain traction in Israel’s innovative ideas factory. Today, however, there are upwards of 100 EdTech start-ups, an established angel and VC industry, and an ecosystem that reaches across oceans and continents. Tiny Israel has become a global leader. Did someone say “traction?”
What’s also interesting, but rarely examined, is the Israel “brand,” and the role it plays in the country’s established innovation leadership. When someone brings up “Israeli technology,” it’s taken as a given that (a) it works, and (b) it’s secure.
Which brings me back to the Israel “brand.” When it comes to education, American parents (and lawmakers) want technology that is proven, secure, and seamlessly blends into EdTech backbones that differ by region, state, town, and sometimes even building. That’s no easy task. Whom do you trust more with protecting your child’s data – Israel or Russia? How about China? India?
But the Israel brand has another attribute that uniquely benefits EdTech – it “fits” naturally into our collective thinking. Politics aside, polls have consistently shown over the years that American public opinion is favorable toward Israel. Like the US, Israel boasts a world-class, Western education model; global university leaders in research; every year, the Ivy League’s top business schools churn out dozens of Israeli MBAs; most Israelis speak English and understand our school systems. The historic tradition of supporting and advancing education that is typically associated with Jews (and, by extension, Israel) adds to the value of “EdTech Israel.”
Development Engine – Learn from China
EdTech presents a unique economic opportunity for Israel; one that can power major segments of its economy and expand its global reach. EdTech is an industry that Israel should “own” and do all it can to help it grow and thrive. Just like China declared its intention to be the global leader in solar panel development, Israel should stake out EdTech as its “turf,” and move aggressively to spur innovation, connection, investment, and the like.
In this area, the Israeli government is a positive force. It’s Digital Israel program is a model for other nations to follow as they bring the magic of the digital age to all their citizens. The Israeli government brought an EdTech Trade Mission to Boston last year, showcasing the innovation from Intelitek, Matific, and Code Monkey (to name a few).
It’s a bilateral partnership; more than 30 states have official cooperative agreements with Israel, including Massachusetts. With more than 200 Israeli companies supporting 9,000 jobs in Massachusetts, the infusion of new Israeli companies is fueling the Boston EdTech boom. Former Governor Deval Patrick brought a trade mission to Israel to explore a number of areas for Massachusetts-Israel collaboration, including EdTech. The state’s current governor, Charlie Baker, brought more than 50 business leaders to Israel last year.
Because of its small size, Israel is rarely considered an investment opportunity – plenty of investment vehicles simply don’t look at the country as the opportunity that it is. Small market equals small opportunity. But that is rapidly changing, as evidenced by the Chinese and Indian investors that have become fixtures in Tel Aviv’s business hotels. The opportunity is the future.
That small size also carries a unique advantage: the whole country is a learning lab. Israel’s teachers embrace technology and infuse it into as much of their education as possible. Unlike some of their counterparts in the US and elsewhere, the teachers are the agents of change. From pre-K to higher ed, new innovations can be tested in Israel’s real-world classrooms, allowing companies to establish proof of concept, and quantify their impact and publish proven results. Testing and gathering data can be a huge hurdle in the US; not so in Israel.
There’s a reason why industry leader McGraw-Hill Education has an R&D center in Israel – along with Intel, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Huawei…the list goes on.
Future on Display
In less than a month, the Israel EdTech Summit will kick off in Tel Aviv. This is not a mere local event; delegations from China, India, Vietnam, South Africa, Brazil, as well as other “typical” players are coming to participate. The Summit will build on the other industry events we’ve all attended – BETT, SXSWedu, ASU/GSV – exploring concrete ways to identify, fund, collaborate, and launch the next wave of “gee whiz” EdTech. It will be a program that explores and showcases the educational innovation Israel is churning out, and the world’s Education market needs.
Israel is a nation that is uniquely steeped in technology and innovation. From its school system to its military, Israel nurtures its tech prowess. That commitment, combined with a centuries-long history of supporting and enhancing education, has established Israel as a global leader punching well above its weight in the EdTech industry.
With the strength of the Israel “brand” and the halo it provides to a system naturally in-sync with that in the US, we could be looking at a future where Israel is the unquestioned go-to partner for EdTech innovation.
Josef Blumenfeld (@JosefBlumenfeld) is the founder of EdTech180, a strategic communication agency delivering a new direction in communication for the EdTech industry.