Wednesday, July 03, 2013

3-Jul-13: Educating the next generation: an early-summer reflection on asymmetry

From the Hebrew University of Jerusalem website
It's a perfect summer afternoon here in Jerusalem. Sky fiercely blue; sun shining and very warm, with the first hints of the wonderful Jerusalem breezes that make evenings here such a pleasure. 

A good moment to pause, while we take stock of some of the turbulence happening in the neighbourhood:
and on and on. It's not a quiet area where we live, and has not been in the past. But for now, at least, we have the privilege of being in an island of calm and quiet achievement.

Achievement? Yes. After the anger and hatred and killing and confrontation have spent themselves, it's education on which we hang our hopes for a better future. And we have a thought to share about this.

In the framework of the generations-long conflict between the Arabs and Israel, the role played by education has been stunningly asymmetrical. We know the word is used - we would say greatly overused - to characterize the efficiency and effectiveness of a well-organized Israeli military versus the Arab irregulars, the terror gangs, the religiously-inspired masses with blood and jihad on their minds. 

But it's not only the ongoing war against the terrorists that expresses this asymmetry. It's also what the people on the other side do to their children in the name of a whole range of values: religious, national, historical, honor-related and on and on. 

We wrote last month about the sickening annual phenomenon of Palestinian Arab summer camps where children are trained under the auspices of Islamic Jihad in how to kill and kidnap Israelis ["18-Jun-13: They want their children to become killers and they say why. The rest of us are left with questions"]. Hamas have a parallel 'educational' stream of their own each summer which we invite you to read about ["Hamas: 100,000 children to train at military camps this summer", Washington Times, June 19, 2013]. The appalling things the Palestinian Arab leadership does to its own continuing generation are satanic. Why there is so little outrage about this - in the Arab world, in other places - is beyond our comprehension. 

But our intentions here are optimistic. The latest Center for World University Rankings were issued yesterday. The global Top 100 are arrayed in a table that focus on these measures: 
  1. Quality of faculty members, measured by the number of academics who have won major international awards, prizes, and medals
  2. Publications, measured by the number of research papers appearing in reputable international journals
  3. Influence, measured by the number of research papers appearing in highly-influential journals
  4. Citations, measured by the number of highly-cited research papers
  5. Patents, measured by the number of international patent filings
  6. Alumni employment, measured by the number of a university's alumni who currently hold CEO positions at the world's top 2000 public companies relative to the university's size
  7. Quality of education, measured by the number of a university's alumni who have won major international awards, prizes, and medals relative to the university's size.
The rankings aim to 
provide the most comprehensive university rankings available, which are trusted by students, academics, university administrators, and government officials from around the world [source]
The organization that does the tallying and comparing is based, a little surprisingly perhaps, in Jeddah KSA. For the acronym-challenged, that would be Jedda, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. (Check it out.) And while a herd of academics (we mean you too, Prof. Stephen Hawking) and universities from all over Europe, the US and the Arab world are engaged in the frenetic boycotting of their counterparts in this tiny land of ours, the bean-counters who objectively and metrically determine which institutions of higher education do the very best job in an intensely competitive field, have done their sums and researched their investigations and... four Israeli universities are in that Top 100 for 2013. 

Not bad at all.

Now no one is going to suggest that having four Israelis in the Top 100 changes anything, or anything much. But let's think together about what it might indicate. Israelis - and particularly those segments that are active participants in university life - carry one of the heaviest burdens anywhere of serving in an active military defence of their society, including long compulsory military service followed by decades of reserves duty. Vast swathes of the national budget go there too. But notwithstanding, the urge to educate, to get educated, to master important fields and - we believe - to make a contribution produces a fiercely productive and vibrant environment. 

So our sincere compliments to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (ranked number 21 in the world), the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot (number 33), Tel Aviv University (57) and Technion Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa (number 66). 

Incidentally, if you look at the rankings by country, you see this:
  • United States institutions account for 57 of the top 100
  • England and Japan: 6 each of the top 100
  • Franceof the top 100
  • Israel and Canada: 4 each of the top 100
But if you factor in the respective populations of the countries in the upper part of the table, and weight the number of Top 100 schools by the population factor, which is what we just did, you get this entirely unofficial ranking:

1. Israel
2. US
3. Canada
4. England
5. France
6. Japan

Now we're not suggesting this approach is more valid, or even valid at all, compared with the published table. But it certainly provides a different indicator of a bright and constructive future than the attendance figures at those Palestinian Arab hate camps do.

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