Israel, with a total population of 9.26 million, including 6.77 million Jews, is the only country in the world with a predominantly Jewish population. Israel has the highest density of startups in the world, with an average of one entrepreneur for every 1,844 people. Even more remarkable is the fact that many of these entrepreneurs are young people under 20 years of age.
Israel leads the world in per capita venture capital investment, with 2.5 times more investment than the United States, 30 times more than Europe, 80 times more than China, and 350 times more than India.
So why are young Israelis so successful in innovation and entrepreneurship? What inspiration can their education provide for China?
Continuous thinking, questioning, and problem-solving is the secret to Israeli innovation. I believe that innovation is not a course or a skill that can be learned in school, but a culture. When we talk about a nation’s innovativeness, we must consider the entire country, not just the education system. Innovation education is reflected in kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, and universities, and can be said to be present in every aspect of the country and society.
——Shai Piron, former Israeli Minister of Education.
Education for Open-Mindedness in Basic Education
Innovation and Entrepreneurship Skills Training in Higher Education
Education has been a top priority for Israel since its establishment, and Jewish people attach great importance to education. Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, once said, “Without education, there is no future.” Israel’s third president, Zalman Shazar, believed that “education is the hope of creating a new nation in Israel.” Israel’s compulsory education covers students from 3 to 18 years old. For decades, Israel’s education spending has remained around 8% of GDP, and in 2011 it even exceeded 10%.
Israel’s basic education emphasizes cultivating open-mindedness. Israelis believe that it is more important for students to ask questions than to solve problems. Students are encouraged to explore, question, and challenge authority, in order to develop innovative and critical thinking skills.
This kind of basic education enables young Israelis to break through their fixed mindset and challenge conventional wisdom, making it a habit of their thinking.
Israel’s higher education system, in particular, emphasizes the cultivation of innovative and entrepreneurial capabilities. Israel supports the establishment of incubators and commercialization centers for research achievements at every higher education institution, emphasizing the combination of technological innovation with disciplines such as economics, management, and law to form a distinctive comprehensive advantage.
Over 80% of Israel’s publishable research projects, as well as almost all basic research projects and training, are conducted in universities, with many star creations and inventions also coming from universities.
Israel has seven globally renowned universities, with the most famous being the Hebrew University.
Israelis also see learning as a lifelong mission. They love to read, buy books, and write books. A survey by UNESCO in 1988 found that Israel has the highest number of libraries and publishing houses per capita in the world.
In Israel, 45% of the population aged 25-60 have a university degree or higher, which is much higher than countries like France and Japan where it is around 25%. In Israel, there are about 140 scientists and engineers per 10,000 employed persons, compared to 85 in the United States and 65 in Japan.
Israel implements mandatory military service and a reserve system, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) also shoulders the mission of cultivating the best technology talents. For young Israelis, a military career can not only enhance personal willpower and decision-making abilities, but also improve personal innovative thinking and action abilities, becoming essential qualities for future entrepreneurs.
Take the “Talpiot Program,” a super-elite training program in the IDF, as an example. Selected students not only need to quickly obtain a degree in mathematics or physics, receive academic training far beyond that of ordinary university students, but also frequently propose interdisciplinary solutions to specific military problems. Elite students are proficient in many fields and have organizational and leadership skills. Many of them become successful entrepreneurs in Israel.
Emphasizing Meaningful LearningValuing Knowledge Application
Israel emphasizes meaningful learning and values practical knowledge in any subject matter. It emphasizes deep understanding of the relevant context, from acquiring knowledge to asking questions, from memorization to comprehension, from textbooks to dialogue, from teachers to communities.
For instance, when studying history, students are encouraged to ask questions and conduct field trips to understand the significance of history to life, rather than just memorizing facts or reciting them.
They often stand up from their chairs and engage in social practice activities, using their actions to change society, the country, and the world.
In Israel, you may receive a business card from a teenager who is only in their teens, with the title of founder, CEO, or CFO of a certain company. This is not a prop made specifically for a performance, but a real fact.
In the documentary “Childhood in a Strange Land” directed by international journalist Zhou Yijun, she witnessed and communicated with a group of teenage entrepreneurs.
The reason why these children dare to make such a feat at such a young age is closely related to the education that encourages entrepreneurship and innovation in schools. The Green Start Academy at the Akko Ayalon High School mentioned in the film is home to 13 entrepreneurial teams, the youngest member of which is only 13 years old, and the oldest is only 17 years old.
While they focus on their products (engineering, electronics, and programming robots), they also seek sponsorship and engage in business aspects.
They believe that entrepreneurship and education are not mutually exclusive but can coexist. To ensure that their studies are not compromised, they allocate and schedule their time and progress in both areas, demonstrating their competence with practical actions.
Despite the possibility of facing disapproval from parents, their entrepreneurial journey is not an overnight success. Still, their maturity and self-discipline, evident in their words and deeds, are impressive.
They firmly believe that the knowledge and problem-solving skills gained from entrepreneurship cannot be learned in traditional education.
Green Start Academy founder Yehuda Oren also spoke highly of these members: “These kids will definitely grow up to be people who make the right decisions for their own lives.”
In Israel, failure means approaching success.
In Israel’s school education, there is a very special type of teacher: educational clowns. Every day, several teachers dress up as clowns, with colorful braids and a red ball on their nose, wandering around the campus.
Sometimes, they sing and dance with the children, and sometimes they deliberately create a bit of trouble to guide the children towards the correct solution. Their presence adds a lot of fun to children’s campus life. What they often teach children is how to face the more awkward parts of life, such as puberty and expressing their resistance when facing unwanted disturbances.
“Therapeutic clowns are a form of art that allows me to express all my thoughts and emotions when I fail because failure is a very human thing, and everyone experiences it.”
In Hebrew, failure is not so negative and can refer to “stumbling on the way,” making a mistake, or possibly not succeeding. “The Israeli culture’s attitude towards failure is: I failed, okay, I’ll try again. Learn from mistakes.”
Israel’s culture does not view failure as an end. When a student understands that mistakes are not the end of the world, they can enjoy this attitude, where joy can be found in failure. This is a word that Israeli teachers want to bring into the school environment. “Joy is not usually the first word you think of when you think of a school, but when you go to a school with education clowns, there is joy, color, happiness, and honesty. There is new communication between teachers and students and between classmates,” said Udi Aharoni, director of the School of Management at Tel Aviv University.
“In Israel, if you fail and start a second venture, investors will give you more when you raise funds,” Aharoni said. Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? Because investors believe that the failures have learned from their mistakes and will not repeat the same mistakes again, and now they are smarter.
“So, you don’t label them as failures here?” asked Zhou Yijun.
“No, we admire them for trying over and over again. In Israel, we have CEOs who have failed continuously, and some entrepreneurs may not succeed until their fourth venture.”
Director Zhou Yijun’s trip to Israel has updated her understanding of Israel’s education. “Israel is not a country of entrepreneurial success, but the spirit of daring to try brings various possibilities in the future. What touched me the most was the imagination game I played at the educator Delong’s home that day. I suddenly saw that everyone’s imagination had no boundaries in a game without standard answers. However, from childhood to adulthood, we define ourselves with countless standardized tests.
It is not until we leave school that the life without standard answers begins, and we re-recognize ourselves.”