Education 2.0 Israel

Education 2.0 in the Land of Milk & Honey

Did you know that the first USB-sticks sold in America under the name of “DiskOnKey” were actually invented by the Israeli company M-Systems?

Ever wondered who invented ICQ, the instant message software? Israelis.

Solar water heating? The “epilator”? Cherry tomatoes? Yep, Israelis.

Between cherry tomatoes and USB-sticks

The list of Israeli inventions is endless, ranging from quantum physics to agriculture and the book “Start-Up Nation – The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” which chronicles how Israel went to become a hi-tech superpower in just two decades has become a New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller.

One notable fact for example is that Israel was one of “the last countries to enter recession and among the earliest to exit the last countries to enter recession and among the earliest to exit” as The Economist says.

Despite the culture of entrepreneurship some officials are worrying that Israel’s start-ups don’t grow to become giants like Sisco, Google or Facebook.

On the other hand, as Cory Doctorow writes in his novel “Makers”:

“The days of companies with names like ‘General Electric’ and ‘General Mills’ and ‘General Motors’ are over. The money on the table is like krill: a billion little entrepreneurial opportunities that can be discovered and exploited by smart, creative people.”

Harvesting the Krill

Israel has a 72.8 % Internet penetration rate and while seeming relatively low compared to the US (76.3 %) or Scandinavia (~ 83 – 90 %) Israel is still above France (69.3 %) or Hong Kong (69.2 %)  [source]

With that kind of penetration Israeli online entrepreneurship could be a lot more than it currently is. Because, for all the advancement of Israel’s high tech innovation-culture, the Internet seems to be curiously lagging behind.

I’m not referring to Israelis who founded online start-ups that operate in English or in an English-speaking market. There’s actually quite a lot of them.

What I’m talking about is the “Hebrew Internet” or online entrepreneurialism catering to people living in Israel.

To give an example: There is no Amazon or Ebay in Israel if that’s an indicator. There are online shopping opportunities here and there but no comprehensive infrastructure as in Europe or the US.

Missed Opportunities and Overlooked Markets

I’ve been making a point lately of asking everyone I meet for Israeli start-ups that offer live online classes.

People always say: “Oh sure. Lots of!” and then refer me to eteacher group as a beacon of Israeli e-learning. They offer Yiddish, Hebrew and Biblical Hebrew in live classes.

So, let’s say my mother-tongue is Hebrew and I want to learn Yiddish, the language of my ancestors, study the bible or brush up on my daughter’s grammar for that next high school exam. Do you think eteacher group even has a Hebrew version of their webpages? There’s French, Portuguese, English, Russian, German and Spanish. But not Hebrew.

From this I can only deduct that eteacher group is mainly targeting Christians and Jews in the diaspora.

But where are the offers for native Hebrew speakers who live in Israel?

42 % of children in Israel take additional tutoring classes outside of their school curriculum. A lesson costs up to 170 shekels (~ $50) per hour in urban centers such as Tel Aviv.

According to ynet, the Israeli tutoring market grows at at an annual rate of 700 million shekels which is about 200 million dollars per year.

Where are the Israeli online edupreneurs and their offers for this growing market?

Even if we don’t talk about tutoring per se but a more general approach such as live online language courses for native Hebrew speakers, there isn’t anything to be found…

Despite its politically precarious situation and constant pressure from within and without, Israel is one of the most developed countries in the world.

And I believe it’s only a matter of time before the “Israeli Internet” will live up to this fact and offer improved online learning opportunities for its netizens.

If you’re looking to start something yourself, now is the time!

Behatzlacha! (Good Luck!)

Picture: “Tel Aviv lookout” by Ron Shoshani

André Klein is a co-founder of the popular Online Learning website Learn Out Live, author of "How To Teach Online Without Selling Your Soul" and various blogposts about online teaching & publishing and reflections on how to stay sane in an increasingly fragmented and digital world.

  • Great post, André !  Nice to get your Israeli inside tips— it does seem like a time ripe to join in !

  • Really interesting thoughts, André. Thanks for sharing.

    Do you think that has something to do with the lettering? Correct me if I am wrong but Israel is the only country using the Hebrew letters hence setting up a web service that can only be used by a very limited group compared to the global audience you can reach with English could be a reason.

    Nevertheless I agree that this also means that you have a pretty defendable market. On one of the last TWiST episodes Jason suggested the same to a founder in Romania, get the local market and maybe you can later on sell your company to a big player that wants a stronghold in your country.

    • Yes, I’ve been doing a few web-design projects for Hebrew speakers over the years and the letters are doubly difficult: different alphabet and different direction (right-to-left) which means also mirroring all design elements like menus and sidebars. but once you got if figured out, it’s actually quite easy.

      so that can’t really be a reason. If business people say, “meh, there’s only 9 million Hebrew speakers on the planet” and they won’t even start because of market research etc, I can understand that. Nevertheless, this is another problem. Great things can be started up with little investment. so even in a comparatively small market you can make ends meet. But for that, you need people who are actually passionate about teaching, not just about doing their MBA thing 😉

  • ChinaMike

    The most compelling figures you pointed to, the growth of the market and the fact that 42% do outside tutoring may or may not have any impact on your thesis- more Hebrew instruction is needed/desired for locals. Do you have any figures targeted more precisely to exactly this market?

    In addition, I am wondering if Hebrew is seen as a foreign language in Israel?  I have been in places where the local language was marketed with foreign languages and it really didn’t click for locals. I am not sure that foreign language companies are the best ones to teach a local language to the local population. Hmmm.