CAMBRIDGE, Mass., June 8, 2006 — A group of MIT students are using business and technology to create networking opportunities for Israeli and Palestinian high school students and, in the process, are reducing hostility and alienation in the students, according to a recent study by a third-party evaluator.
The success of the Middle East Education through Technology (MEET) initiative, founded in 2003 by MIT students and siblings Anat and Yaron Binur, culminates on Aug. 6, 2006 in Jerusalem when 18 Israeli and Palestinian high school students enrolled in the MIT-led program complete their third year and take part in the initiative's first-ever graduation.
“MEET puts an emphasis on bringing together the academic and business worlds of the region, with the belief that a positive dialogue in the Middle East will be greatly enhanced by such partnerships,” says Anat who, like her brother, holds dual Israeli and United States citizenship. “Identities are reframed around professional interests rather than political ideologies, and stereotypes gradually begin to take a back seat to cooperation and relationship building. The controlled atmosphere of a summer program is an excellent place to start building these relationships, but it is out in the realities of their region in which they must thrive.”
In 2005, MEET hired Mishtanim Corp., to review its program and assess whether the organization was meeting its goals. Mishtanim, which specializes in evaluating multicultural and technological projects, is comprised of professionals in the fields of sociology, psychology, technology, science, and education. Their findings included the following:
“The rigorousness of the curriculum creates a joint fate between all students, Israeli & Palestinian: they are fighting together with their joint ‘enemy’, the Java programming language. In this way, the common challenge and feeling of accomplishment in dealing with this challenge, clearly serves to bring the two sides closer together. The program clearly helped decrease alienation and hostility between Palestinians and Israelis, break misconceptions, and replace stereotypes with the development of friendship and relationships between the participants.”
MEET curriculum is based on methodology developed by faculty from the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and MIT Sloan School of Management. MEET is further supported by business and academic leaders from the Middle East, the United States and Europe.
A three-year educational program, MEET is divided into two main components: three five-week summer courses and a yearlong software development project. MEET is hosted at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and taught by MIT students and alumni. Mentors continue working throughout the year with the students on developing their projects.
“With my background in business and engineering, I hope to represent a neutral professional source around which the students can come together,” said Shahid Rashid, MIT Sloan MBA '07, who will be teaching with MEET this summer.
The 2006 summer session will include a total of 70 Palestinian and Israeli students. They will be taught by a team of 11 students from MIT. Two MBA students from MIT Sloan will join the summer teaching team, bringing with them a top-level MBA curriculum which they have been developing throughout the year with some of MIT Sloan's leading professors.
Together with the instructors from MIT, the MEET high students will develop software products and corresponding business plans. The business curriculum includes specially designed business cases emphasizing management and teamwork within multicultural environments.
MEET students are carefully selected from more than 25 Israeli and Palestinian high schools across four Israeli and Palestinian cities. The selection process includes two stages: a written exam that tests the applicant's level of English, general knowledge, and motivation; and a personal interview.
The program does not require previous knowledge in computer programming; however, students must have the commitment and academic prowess for the rigorous MEET course, demonstrate that they have been active in their schools and communities, and be interested in learning about different cultures. This year more than 270 students competed for 30 spots in MEET's entering class.
Upon acceptance, and after committing to participation, MEET students receive a full scholarship that covers all costs of the program, including tuition, teaching materials, transportation, and food for a full year of the MEET experience. The students are not expected to pay for any of the MEET activities.
“During a tense time in the region, the MEET program represents a unique approach and a real hope for the future,” says Abeer Hazboun, MEET's Palestinian director. “The experiences of the Israeli and Palestinian students, as well as our MIT instructors, is one which changes their entire perspective and shows the way in which, despite conflict, people can work together to achieve common professional goals.”