Innovators take the lead at World ORT’s Wingate Seminar


Teachers, not technology, are fundamental to a quality education “モ but create the right mix between the two and the possibilities are truly exciting. It was this challenge that lay at the heart of the 13th World ORT Wingate Seminar, which was held at ORT House, London, recently.

Previous Wingate Seminars have focused on new technology and the skills needed to exploit them but this year the focus was on pedagogy and the educators themselves with the theme, “Leading Technology Innovation in Schools”.

“The aim this year was to be critical of these technologies, to evaluate where they are living up to their promise and where they are not, because we haven’t got the time or money to invest in technology for its own sake,” said the Head of World ORT’s Education Department, Daniel Tysman. “It can be difficult enough to convince some teachers to adopt innovations. We need to equip our innovators to be leaders, to identify what works well and then show others that the technology can bring benefits to learning, administration or management, that their lives can be made easier and that we can give the students something more than they would have without the technology.” It was the ideal opportunity to bring together the teachers responsible for introducing and developing the technology provided to their schools in Israel through World ORT’s Kadima Mada programme for their first overseas group training event. The 25 Innovation Leaders from Israel were joined by 12 teachers from the USA, Mexico, Argentina, Ukraine, Russia and South Africa for an intensive five days of lectures, workshops and outings designed not to provide answers but to broaden horizons and give participants plenty to think about in how to effect positive, practical change in their respective schools.

The need for this kind of informed examination was stressed by Roger Wingate, Trustee of the Harold Hyam Wingate Charitable Foundation which supports the Seminar. Wingate shared the view expressed by the renowned intellectual George Steiner that the digital revolution was as important as the invention of the printing press because it was enabling a sharing of knowledge which was too massive to be controlled by governments and other authorities as they had been wont to do throughout history.

“What you do and what you will be teaching people to do is how to moderate all this, how to become in a sense the librarians so that you guide young people so that they use this usefully as opposed to destructively or to no purpose,” he said. “And as the ability to convey information becomes easier and quicker and the ability to consume becomes simpler so the need for the kind of expertise that you’re discussing – how to use it, how to control it, how to make it productive – will become increasingly important because otherwise it will serve no purpose.”

Critical to the teachers’ consideration of how to move forward was the opportunity given by the Seminar to meet peers from around the world, share experiences and discuss future cooperation – a process which World ORT is working to ensure is not limited to the meeting in London.

“There’s a wealth of experience in the ORT network and even if we had a month together it wouldn’t be enough so the idea of developing professional collaboration is important,” Mr Tysman said. “There’s so much enthusiasm among participants, so much good will to work together and develop new projects that it would be a shame to limit the knowledge sharing between schools to five days. It’s the 21st Century and we need to work out what the best ways are of continuing to share. It’s been particularly useful for the Israelis to see what ORT educators are doing around the world and to think about what can be incorporated into the Israeli system.”

Among the methods of sharing resources explored at the Seminar were Moodle and the Times Education Resource Bank, ways by which teachers can deposit classroom material they have developed for use with Interactive Whiteboards, animations, PowerPoint presentations so that others can adopt and adapt it at their discretion.

Creating a clearing house of educational resources was just one of the aspect of the Wingate Seminar that fascinated Dr Ari Yares, Middle School Principal at the Krieger Schechter Day School in Baltimore, who was able to attend thanks to the financial support of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

“I’m fascinated by the different projects and the potential for collaboration and perhaps creating partnerships with North American day schools,” Dr Yares said. “Collaboration in Jewish education can get us out of the small silos in which we exist. In the US we talk a lot about 21st Century learning skills and one of those key skills is collaboration and the power it brings to problem solving. The problem is that we need to educate our kids with less money, less resources and less time…. to do that alone is foolhardy. One of the missions of Jewish education and certainly one of the missions of World ORT is enhancing klal Yisrael so that is an area we need to strongly engage in. It’s like that old metaphor of the bundle of sticks: if you take one stick by itself it’s easy to break but if you wrap them together it’s much harder to break them.”

The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s funding also enabled ORT Odessa School computer science and technology teacher Anna Michurina and Liat Partuk, electronics teacher at Makif Daled School in Ashkelon, to attend. They discussed with Dr Yares how their schools could develop a traingular relationship as well as explore new ventures with other schools.

“I found people in various countries who can help me to organise new activities – senior teachers and heads of department who have similar goals as me and have the authority to organise full international cooperation,” Ms Michurina said. “Such cooperation is very important in helping students compare their knowledge with others. We’ve found that inter-school competitions in the Former Soviet Union instil pride in the students. So competing with students from further away, such as Israel, the US or Argentina would be a great opportunity. Language shouldn’t be a problem: we can still compare knowledge and techniques in multi-media activities even if we have to rely on Google translation of texts.”

But the ramifications of this Wingate Seminar may go far beyond the obvious benefits to students and teachers. Several teachers noted with satisfaction the presence of Arab Israeli colleagues, one of whom, the Science Coordinator at Shibli School, Samira Shibli, noted that the Seminar was a very good example of co-existence.

“This is the place which is the hope for the future – a Jewish organisation which gives support to other cultures. This is real co-existence and it’s from things like this that we will get to a better place, in Israel and the whole world. Because when we mix with each other we understand each other,” Ms Shibli said.