US aerospace company and airplane manufacturer Lockheed Martin, the maker of the F-35 stealth fighter jet, is opening a science- and tech-focused preschool in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem municipality announced (Hebrew) last week.
The preschool will be part of the US company’s larger, more established Lockheed Martin network of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) schools called MadaKids (Mada in Hebrew means science), which already has runs educational programs for preschoolers in kindergarten and pre-kindergarten in the southern Israeli cities of Beersheba and Kiryat Malachi. MadaKids started as a pilot program in Beersheba in September 2015 and expanded to Kiryat Malachi a year later.
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The preschool in Jerusalem will be located in the southwest neighborhood of Kiryat Menachem and will be run in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage, and the Jerusalem Municipality. It will open in September for the 2018-2019 school year.
Lockheed Martin runs a number of educational programs in several countries across the world but this particular initiative is unique to Israel.
“Advancing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education is a critical focus for Lockheed Martin,” the company says on its website, adding in a section on activities in Israel that “the future growth of Israel’s economy will require a constant supply of highly-trained, highly-capable technical talent and Lockheed Martin is proud of the collaboration with Israel’s Ministry of Education, Ministry of Science and Technology and the Rashi Foundation to promote STEM-related programs.”
The preschools “are an Israeli innovation in every respect, and already, delegations have arrived from other countries, like Korea and Germany, that are thinking of going in a similar direction,” Joshua Shani, CEO of Lockheed Martin Israel, told Haaretz.
The school in Jerusalem, like the ones in southern Israel, will be part of the secular state school system with Lockheed Martin funding the scientific part of the curriculum, which includes constructing “science and technology stations” both inside and outside the school “to foster creativity and scientific thinking in young children,” the Municipality said in a statement.
Setting up such schools comes with a price tag of some $250,000, Shani has revealed. Lockheed Martin covers the bulk of the costs with the rest made up with funds from the Rashi Foundation, an Israeli philanthropic organization, and the Jerusalem Municipality.
Teachers in the STEM program are also trained by the Rashi Foundation.
“We’re supporting them financially, but we don’t have teachers in the preschools and we’re not intervening in the programming or curriculum,” Shani told Haaretz.
The kindergartens in the project are equipped with computers, construction kits, robotics experiments and space-related content, and have a rich curriculum of STEM studies. As part of the project, Lockheed Martin plans to fund robotics courses for students who graduate from its kindergartens.
The Jerusalem Municipality said in a statement that the school is a symbol of a “pioneering approach to early science education,” with a focus on the newest scientific and technological developments. The city added that the launch of the school comes in celebration of the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding, marked last month.
Marilyn Hewson, the president and CEO of Lockheed Martin said in a statement that the company was “proud to partner in the establishment of the MadaKids school in Jerusalem, which inspires and nurtures children from a young age for a future as scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.”
The third such preschool, this time in Jerusalem, she added, “will further deepen investment in the educational potential of Israeli children.”
Hewson has previously said that Lockheed Martin was interested in investing in children in Israel because the country “understands better than almost any nation in the world the importance of educating the next generation in science, technology, engineering, and math.”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat welcomed the initiative, calling Jerusalem the “capital of educational innovation.” Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister Zeev Elkin said his ministry was proud to partner with one of the biggest tech companies in the world and that the selection of Jerusalem as the site for the next school was proof that the capital was “becoming a hub of scientific activity.”
Lockheed Martin has also run a number of educational programs for older children, including the first LEGO Junior League finals with 200 third and fourth graders, a girls-only cyber summer camps for middle schoolers, and a national cyber competition for high schoolers in partnership with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Cyber Command and the Rashi Foundation. The event drew over 2,000 students from 70 Israeli high schools, according to the company.
Beyond its educational forays, Lockheed Martin is primarily known for its tech and defense capabilities, with spendings of over $1 billion on reciprocal procurement deals with Israel since 2010, according to Israeli financial daily Globes.
The company is also the developer and manufacturer of the F-35, known in Israel as the “Adir” (Hebrew for mighty) a fifth-generation stealth fighter jet equipped with unique Israeli features. Israel signed a deal to purchase 50 such aircraft from Lockheed Martin over a number of years, for about $100 million apiece. Israel received its first two planes in December 2016 and at least nine have been delivered so far.
Last week, Israel said it became the first country in the world to use the F-35 in combat.