April 25, 2007 / 7 Iyar 5767
More than 90 parents recently visited the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology to participate in a special Parents' Day for the Jewish Agency’s Sparks of Science program. These Ethiopian parents have much to be proud of; many of them overcame incredible challenges, including famine and illness, to bring their children to Israel and realize the dream of rebuilding their lives in the Jewish homeland.
On Parents’ Day it became clear just how far these families have come. Parents joined their teenage children in the laboratories of one of Israel’s finest universities and worked together on physics and chemistry experiments. From the rural villages of Ethiopia to the cutting edge of scientific and technological innovation, this is the miracle of the Sparks of Science program.
"Look at me," said Lior, a Sparks of Science graduate who addressed the audience and directed his comments to current Sparks participants. "I finished the program in 2005 and now I am studying in the Technion's Pre-Academic Preparatory program. Next year I will be studying electrical engineering. You too can succeed."
Sparks of Science is an innovative four-year technology enrichment program for Ethiopian students in 9th through 12th grades. The program was established seven years ago to ensure that greater numbers of Ethiopian young people have the scholastic ability and the self-esteem necessary to advance in today's science and technology fields.
Sparks of Science is run in cooperation with two of Israel's most prestigious universities, the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, and supported by a number of Federations throughout North America. The program enriches participants’ knowledge of mathematics, advanced technology, the sciences and English, and is designed to enhance cognitive development.
"You are our future Einstein's," said Jewish Agency program director David Shilo as he met and spoke with parents, and watched as they conducted different experiments together with their children.
The educational program includes six hours of weekly instruction. Classes are taught on campus by university lecturers, and college students conduct small tutoring sessions in participants’ neighborhoods. Organized visits to the university laboratories, high-tech ventures, and research and development centers expose students to the many opportunities and fields they can pursue. The program also includes social activities for the entire group as well as a science oriented summer camp and activities for students’ families.
"We are so proud of our children who are motivated to invest their time in this special program so they can move forward," said Aviva Balay, mother of one of the participants, as she addressed the other parents in the opening ceremony. "We need to support them and encourage them to do well and go to college."
A recent survey carried out by the Technion showed that 30 percent of Sparks of Science graduates are now pursuing higher education. Ninety percent of the graduates said that the program enhanced their motivation to study, significantly increased their self-esteem and gave them essential "learning and thinking tools." The survey also concluded that additional incentives are needed to involve more young women in the program.
Pnina Tamano, an Ethiopian-born Israeli who worked as a counselor in the program, says, "Though my father was a farmer in Ethiopia and my mother stayed at home to take care of the family, education was extremely important to them. Programs like Sparks of Science move our community forward."