This article first appeared in the Times of Israel blog.
By Dr. Moshe Leiba, Chief Pedagogy and R&D Officer at World ORT Kadima Mada in Israel
When I think of the children my team works to support, a persistent question lingers in my mind. How can you dream if you cannot even conceptualize possibilities, if you cannot conceive of promise and potential?
What happens when you are born on the periphery, when you are under-privileged or from a low-socio economic background, and you do not have the equity or role models to dream of another life for yourself? Because it does not matter whether you want to be an architect or an engineer, a web developer or a robotics expert – if you do not even know those options exist, then making a meaningful future for yourself in the modern world is an even greater challenge.
For the young people World ORT supports in Israel, these are the everyday realities of a vicious circle. But they are realities we are fighting every day to change.
The ORT approach – developed across our global network of schools and educational programs – promotes STEAM (Science, Technology, Education, the Arts and Math) education by encouraging real-world teaching and learning. We give our students experience in problem solving, self-regulated learning, collaboration and more.
This adaptability will be more vital in the post-pandemic world than ever before. The lack of skill development has hampered young people the world over – and the demand for advanced skills is ever-increasing. Failing to focus on real-life situations has left too many children studying redundant subjects via outdated methods. The problem is even more acute in under-developed education systems.
Lockdowns, and the school closures which came with them, highlighted both the best and worst outcomes of this. Children who have learnt adaptable skills have shown they understand how to use them – managing their own learning from home, regulating their approach and thriving in the new environment. For many of them it has offset at least some of the damage done by the time spent away from school.
But the long-standing, pre-pandemic research could not be clearer in showing how school closures cause a measurable loss in the acquisition of basic skills, particularly for the most disadvantaged children.
The 24/7 approach to education which my colleagues and I live by creates a more holistic view than that provided by traditional schooling. I know what my students are doing in the afternoons once the school day is finished – because my team is providing the extra-curricular courses they need to give them a leg up.
For example, in a collaboration with the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County, we ran a program which introduced students to professions of the future. Youngsters in two centers – in Israel and Florida – learnt about 3D modelling, creating 3D computerized characters and elements while being introduced to the theory of the programming and logical thinking behind the concepts.
Israeli and American students worked together online, broadening their horizons and cultural understanding, preparing them for a world beyond.
Every day we are fighting against the inequalities which children at the low end of the socio-economic spectrum face. One method is to start at the youngest age realistically possible.
Our teams in the town of Kiryat Yam, on Israel’s coast, are focusing on children at the start of their school lives. We are promoting junior robotics programs which bring “maker” culture into even kindergarten settings.
It is not about trying to teach them advanced coding at that stage, rather we are introducing age-appropriate concepts of logical problem-solving.
We want to transform children’s perceptions of the world around them. One program we are collaborating on with World ORT in Ghana encourages girls to participate in STEM courses. We focus on three stages of empowerment – the youngest girls are given older mentors from the grades above them, so a 19-year-old might act as a role model for a seven-year-old student. Then we match the teenagers with older female mentors who are already company CEOs or experts in STEM industries.
This creates a virtuous circle, lifting the girls and women in each age band.
At the heart of everything we do – locally and globally – is a determination to give children from every background the chance not only to dream, but to realize their potential and make those hopes and aspirations a reality.