Bara'em Hi-Tech Seeds
Career training for Arab high school students in Israel
The Bara’em Hi-Tech program at Givat Haviva allows promising Arab high school students in Israel to study computer science and technology and earn credits toward a bachelor’s degree in computer science while still in high school. This head start, available to the most talented Jewish students through the army, is the
foundation for the “Start-Up Nation.”
A number of features make this program significant and unique:
Cultural and geographic accessibility
Guidance and accompaniment
Tuition discounts and need-based scholarships
Why is this program important?
Hi-tech is widely acknowledged as the driver of Israel’s economic prosperity, and the sector’s demand for skilled workers exceeds the supply. Although Arabs in Israel have successfully integrated into other demanding, highly competitive professions, most notably medicine and law. In 2020, they still comprised only 3% of the hi-tech workforce despite making up 21% of the general population.
Increasing Arab participation in hi-tech is advantageous to everyone: the industry itself that will gain the local labor force it needs, Israeli society that will enjoy increased prosperity overall, and the Arab population that will benefit from the greatly augmented economic resources that hi-tech brings into communities. This is not controversial; Israel’s government recognizes the need and supports bringing larger numbers of Arabs into hi-tech.
The obstacles to Arab participation in hi-tech, however, are numerous despite the potential benefits. Colleges and universities offering technical degrees concentrate primarily in the country’s population centers are far from Arab towns and villages. Overwhelmingly Jewish, Israeli campuses are culturally foreign to young Arab potential students. Instruction is in Hebrew, Arab students’ second or third language, in which they are rarely fluent.
Young Arabs lack role models in hi-tech to whom they can look for inspiration and guidance or help in finding a job when they complete their studies. Arab students are often the first in their families to earn any degree and are new to the demands of academic-level studies. And, of course, families from lower socio-economic brackets are challenged to pay tuition in the first place.
This is in addition to Israel’s hi-tech gold standard, the army-preparatory track closed to Arab students. Bara’em Hi-tech addresses these obstacles, providing a clear way to boost the number of Arab citizens in Israel’s hi-tech. The program brings hi-tech instruction for promising high school students to Arab population centers and creates dedicated classes with Arab instructors and role models. The program offers Hebrew language enrichment support and need-based scholarships for students and their families.
The Bara’em Hi-Tech program at Givat Haviva first opened in October 2015 with a class of 36 ninth-grade students. Each year since, the program has added from one to three full first-year classes, with second-year students continuing at the Givat Haviva campus and third through fifth years at Netanya Academic College (due to regulatory limitations on the number of academic credits that can be earned off campus).
The program runs for three semesters every school year, including an intensive summer semester, with lectures and lab work covering university-level computer science courses. The courses, identical to those taught at Netanya Academic College, are taught and exams administered by faculty from the Netanya Academic College’s Computer Science Department. Givat Haviva is responsible for support and added programming during students’ first two years.
During this time, courses are supplemented with Hebrew language enrichment classes, extra practice sessions, and field trips to local offices of hi-tech firms like Google and Checkpoint. These trips serve as students’ first glimpse into the world of hi-tech. Classes are taught (in Hebrew) by Arab lecturers whenever possible, and discussion groups are taught by Arab teaching assistants. The program coordinator gets to know all the students and their families in person and maintains contact with them to offer support and encouragement.
Open University Expansion
The need for this program goes beyond the immediate region; however, students from farther afield who have enrolled eventually found the commute too difficult. Givat Haviva responded to this need by launching a parallel track with the Open University, which has branches around the country in close proximity to additional Arab population centers.
The first class of Bara’em Hi-Tech in Nazareth, Israel’s largest Arab city, opened virtually during the pandemic with forty new students beginning the 2021 spring semester, and a second year opened in spring 2022. The Open University offers two semesters per year with courses identical to their own computer science program, taught by their faculty.
Following the pilot in Nazareth, Givat Haviva hopes to utilize the Open University’s many locations to further expand the program to other underserved communities of Israel’s Arab population. The lower Triangle region (Tira, Taibe, Kalansuwa) is envisaged as the next location. In addition to the supplementary components Givat Haviva offers in the program with Netanya, the Open University program will also include English language enrichment.
What is the future of this program?
In 2021, Givat Haviva celebrated our first Bara’em Hi-Tech graduates with a BSc. degrees in Computer Science. During the first few years of the program, Jewish students also enrolled, so six of our first graduates are Jewish, and have begun their obligatory army service. (Three Jewish students remain in the program.) Of the five Arab graduates, one has enrolled in a Master’s Degree program, and the others have all found work in the field. We eagerly follow their progress and wish them great success!
The 2021-2022 year opened with all students returning to class in person.
The 2022-2023 year opened with 94 first-year students and 32 second-year students at the Givat Haviva Campus. An additional 40 youths will begin studies in Nazareth in March 2023
Ruyad and Ihab are two students from the same neighborhood, who joined the program as ninth graders when it opened in 2015. Today our requirements are more stringent, but at the time, they both started with high school grade averages of 70%, which did not bode well for their success. In addition, they both came from difficult economic backgrounds: Ruyad has nine siblings, his father works odd jobs, and his mother is a nursery school assistant. Ihab’s father is from Palestine and has many difficulties finding work in Israel.
They both flunked their first semester with exceedingly low scores (5 and 7 out of 100), after which Yousef, the project coordinator, and the lecturer had a talk with them, warning that if they did not make a significant effort, they would soon find themselves out of the program. Evidently, they had not realized what they were getting into, and had expected to succeed easily. Yousef continued to keep close tabs on them for the next two semesters, checking whether they did their homework and making a weekly plan together with them, teaching them how to manage their time. He ensured they attended extra lessons with the lecturer and the teaching assistant and assigned one of the best students to mentor them, helping them understand the material and coaching them with the homework.
After a while, it was clear that Ruyad and Ihab were getting motivated. They had begun to call Yousef on their own to ask for extra help, they asked the lecturer for help when they didn’t understand, and they showed up for all the lessons on time. They had begun to realize that they would have to work hard to succeed, but also, just as importantly, that they could. They re-took the exam they had failed and passed the second time. In their second year, their grades were excellent. They worked hard at home and came to all the classes and practice sessions, including the extra hours Givat Haviva provided. The lecturers noticed how well they grasped the material and asked them to assist and help explain the exercises to other students. After the first year, they received annual awards for outstanding achievement from Netanya Academic College, signifying average scores over 90.
Ruyad says the program has changed his life. If he had continued as he was before, he may or may not have finished high school, and would have joined his father working in construction or cleaning. Ihab began the program as a small, very introverted boy, who was too shy to raise his hand to ask a question in class. By the time he finished, he was speaking freely and even lecturing. He says, “The program gave me a stronger personality, and also improved my Hebrew. … Studying at Givat Haviva gave me motivation and self-confidence. When I started, I was very shy, and I was very scared when I took exams. Today I am self-confident and not afraid of studying and exams.”
Ruyad and Ihab have graduated. Ruyad has found work in Tiberias, and Ihab is working in Nazareth and also as a teaching assistant at Bara’em Hi-Tech at Givat Haviva.
Yara, the eldest of four, also joined the program in its first year. Her younger brother joined two years after her. Their family background is modest and traditional; the father works in construction, and the mother is a homemaker. During their first two years at Givat Haviva, we were able to support both with scholarships while their father worked overtime. Since then, they have also received support from the local municipality and Netanya Academic College. Yara completed her first two years successfully, but the transition to Netanya was difficult for her. As a young Arab woman who wears the hijab, she struggled socially, and her father worried about her traveling by bus and objected to her returning late after classes. During the group’s first semester at Netanya, the Program Coordinator organized a shuttle, but then the students opted to switch to public transportation, and Yara missed many classes. Yousef intervened with the university to allow her to sit the exams despite missing class. Yara was extremely hardworking, studying at least ten hours a day and completing matriculations in physics and electronics along with successfully passing her Bara’em Hi-Tech exams.
Yara’s self-assurance has grown immensely through the program. Where she used to blush when she spoke with people, she has become strong and confident. She had the courage to reach out again and again to Yousef and speak about difficulties with her family, which is not easy or accepted in her culture. Yara asked for help and support when her father did not want her to travel, speak with boys, or speak to strangers. He was afraid for her as a young, religious Arab woman whose Hebrew is not great, traveling on her own in Israel, where she is likely to encounter racism. Yousef sat with her family many times to reassure them and persuade her father to let her continue her studies. Many times her father, concerned for her safety, drove to Netanya late at night to bring her home.
Yara has graduated and is now working in a hi-tech firm in Tel Aviv.
Raya entered the program with a solid average of 90 in high school. After two successful years in Bara’em Hitech at Givat Haviva, she decided not to continue on to studies at Netanya.
With a supportive family, Raya had other possibilities in mind that she wanted to explore. But before the second semester, she called to say that she wanted to return to the program and insisted on taking both the first and second semester courses concurrently, so as not to fall behind. It was a hefty load in parallel with high school matriculation, but Raya persevered. Raya completed all four courses that quarter and her degree with honors. Raya is now pursuing her Master’s Degree at Hebrew University, and working at Netanya Academic College as a teaching assistant. She is also working with the Bara’em Hi-Tech students who are continuing the program in Netanya.