Nelson Mandela was recalled recently by a leading Israeli educator who was chosen in 1992 by the then-South African president to lead an innovative educational program that is still operating in South African schools.
Dr. Eli Eisenberg, senior vice president and head of Israel Sci-Tech Schools Administration for Research and Development and Training, was a faculty member at the Technion in Haifa, involved in lecturing and research, at the time. He was invited to an interview with President Mandela for a position as the head of the ORT STEP (Science and Technology Education Project) program to set up a science and technology education institute in Johannesburg. The program was the first of its kind, and its goal was to develop curricula for advanced science and technology studies and to train teachers in the various branches of technology all over the country.
Eisenberg said that when he came to the interview with Mandela, “I didn’t think I had much chance of being chosen for the job because I was a Jew and an Israeli and because of the color of my skin. Nevertheless, President Mandela did choose me from among a dozen other candidates, saying, “a person’s origin or color does not matter. What is important is that his heart be in the right place.”
“Looking back, I realize that I was chosen to be in charge of this progressive program mainly because of its pedagogical vision and my insistence not to make do with the assessment of the existing state of education in South Africa but rather to also emphasize implementation of the most advanced international standards of technological and vocational education. This was in contrast to the other candidates who did not see the potential of the South African population and mainly proposed vocational education at the basic levels only.”
The goal of the STEP program, still operating in South Africa, was to cater to the needs of a weakened population and primarily to the tremendous burden of unemployment. Much has been said and written about the fact that President Mandela called education “the most powerful weapon in the world for social improvement” in the struggle to bridge social gaps and solve unemployment.
Eisenberg said what was true in the early1990s in South Africa is still true today on a global scale: “Vocational and technological education is a key solution to the problem of socio-economic gaps in many countries in that it can raise employability and earnings among all levels of society.”
He noted that among the most important lessons he learned from his many encounters with Mandela, whom he considers his mentor, was that the development of students’ cognition is only one component of education. “No less important is `the balance between head, heart and hands,’ as Nelson Mandela told me himself on more than one occasion: `White western society moves forward with its head but leaves its heart behind.’ The importance of the connection between head, heart and hands as an inherent component of education and of students’ development into whole human beings, has accompanied me throughout my professional path to this day.”
Israel Sci-Tech Schools is a leader in the development of holistic education models and positive psychology, in empowering the strengths of the student and distinguishing between multiple intelligences.