Israel teaches the UK about education technology

Israel is often referred to as the “startup nation” – a small country filled to bursting with innovative new technology firms trying to making the world work in a faster, better, and safer way.

People frequently discuss the country in the context of cyber security, and rightly so. It is a field in which firms such as Check Point, Maglan (recently purchased by Accenture), and Adallom, amongst others, help lead the way in Israel and beyond.

However, Israel’s technology scene offers far more than that, with technological innovation in agriculture, fintech, and others sectors becoming increasingly prominent.  This point was further underlined last week, with the hosting of a conference held by the UK Israel EdTech Task Force in London.

The taskforce is designed to give the burgeoning industry a voice, provide recommendations to British and Israeli policy makers on how to encourage innovation and investment, and share best practice. It was launched in January this year, and is collaboration between EdTech UK, the MindCET innovation centre from Israel, and UK Israel Tech Hub.

Israel also has an edtech hub, which conducts a variety of activities such as market research, lobbying, and community meet ups to try and connect Israeli edtech firms with international entrepreneurs, investors, and business partners. It recently hosted a summit in Tel Aviv on the 8th – 9th June.

It should come as no surprise that after security, Israel is turning its technological prowess towards the education sector. Education is seen as fundamental to helping drive the country’s economy forward. In May 2015 the OECD conducted a global assessment of education for the first time. Israel was ranked strongly, placed 39 out of 76 nations, based on standardised test scores.

A year earlier, the same organisation had written in its education at a glance paper: “The country ranks fourth among OECD countries for tertiary (higher education) attainment among 25-64 year-olds: 46 per cent of adults held a tertiary degree in 2012 compared with 33 per cent on average for OECD countries.”

The most recent task force meeting brought together a host of innovative Israeli education technology firms alongside some of their UK counterparts. Amongst the Israeli firms present included the Tel Aviv based Code Monkey, which uses game based techniques to teach children (or adults!) how to write computer code.

There was also ArtBit, whose app is “unifying the physical and digital worlds” by deploying mobile technology to bring the art world to life for gallery goers, according to its founder. The app allows users to take a picture of a piece of a work of art, gives more information if it is in the archive. It also allows users to add art that they know about to the archive, and shows on a map where artwork is.

Labour Peer Lord Puttnam opened proceedings, underlining the strong relationship between the UK technology scene and the Israeli one. He encouraged teachers to embrace the kind of technology showcased by the taskforce, and not fear things going wrong in the fraught atmosphere of the classroom. He also spoke passionately about how edtech could engage students in an entirely new way.

The economic benefits of engaging with Israel and its edtech scene are also clear. Code Monkey VP of Business Development Yishai Pinchover highlighted Israel as “a first go to market”.

Israel is primed and ready to take the best of what British edtech can offer, if those companies decide to do their homework and invest in the startup nation.

Charlotte Henry is Senior Press Officer at BICOM