Israel gets smart


04 February 2009 Israel gets smart World ORT has joined the Israeli Government in an ambitious project to convert 1,000 classrooms into high-tech smart classes featuring Interactive White Boards (IWBs). Over the past year, World ORT has trebled the number of smart classes in the Jewish State under Phase 5 of its Kadima Mada (Science Journey) programme by equipping 60 classes with IWBs, Internet connectivity and other technological aids – and providing the teacher training necessary to ensure the most effective use of the 21st Century tools. The NIS 70 million partnership between the Ministry for Development of the Negev and the Galilee, the Ministry of Education and World ORT will see smart classes built in primary and secondary schools in the north and south of the country. In addition, the Ministry of Education is committed to fully funding teacher training associated with the project for the next four years. ‘The Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee and the Ministry of Education are leading an exceptionally important move,’ said World ORT Director General Robert Singer. ‘All government offices that take part in this project deserve praise for promoting the prospects of young people living in the peripheral regions of Israel. It is a privilege for us to take part in something which will enhance the education of thousands of students and promote technological science in Israel.’ The roll-out of smart classes was formally announced this month but follows two years of close cooperation between World ORT and the Ministry of Education – as well as local municipalities – in the implementation of Kadima Mada, which is raising the level of science and technology education in more than 30 high school campuses in under-resourced communities. Indeed this latest project was foreshadowed as long ago as May last year in a meeting between Mr Singer, Education Minister Yuli Tamir and World ORT President (then Deputy President) Dr Jean de Gunzburg. ‘We agreed that when there are 1,000 smart classes in Israeli schools that will be the moment when the quantity will truly make a significant impact on the quality of the country’s education. World ORT will do its utmost to help the Ministry of Education achieve this target,’ Mr Singer said at the time. And during a visit to a smart class installed by World ORT at Makif Aleph High School in Be’er Sheva in June last year, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert praised World ORT’s initiative in bringing the technology to more communities saying it was increasing the effectiveness of teaching. Mr Olmert said World ORT was ‘much more than a symbol; it’s an institution of substance. I salute World ORT for its assistance, support and contribution to the education system of Israel’. The huge expansion of this cutting edge, interactive technology, in which the teaching is done on-line with students’ laptops connected to the IWB, has drawn considerable media attention. The Education Minister, Professor Tamir, told a journalist for Channel 2 television: ‘The goal [of this project] is to reinforce the same areas that need a better scientific and educational infrastructure. An educational infrastructure is essential in the State of Israel. I’m glad that we’re able to perform this great move for students in Israel.’ The Minister of Development for the Negev and the Galilee, Yaakov Edri, said the 1,000-smartclass project would make an important contribution to the Negev region and to residents of towns near Gaza, as well as to communities in the Galilee. ‘I have no doubt that this project will bring the students of the Galilee and Negev forward and close the technological gap that currently exists between communities in the centre and the periphery,’ Mr Edri said. Replacement of the traditional chalk and talk approach has captured the imaginations of students and teachers alike. One student told Channel 2 television: ‘It’s much easier because the teacher can show us all sorts of things instead of telling us to go to the Internet at home. And we can save things on a memory stick or by email.’ And a teacher added: ‘Students can send their solutions directly on to the [IWB] and we can respond and send them the answers. Also, a student who doesn’t follow a lesson and wants to keep up doesn’t have to resort to written summaries – they can go over the recording of the sequence of the lesson at home.’ World ORT and its partners are contributing NIS 5 million to the Negev programme and NIS 16 million to the Galilee component with other monies coming from the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee, the Ministry of Education and the Prime Minister’s Office. In addition to supplying hardware and software, the money will provide on-going logistical maintenance and training and guidance for the teachers in those schools where the classrooms will be built, hundreds of which are due to be completed by 2010. Orli Yehezkel, CEO of the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee, said: ‘This investment in exposing students to advanced technology and in improving students’ study skills will lead to major improvements in their achievements, I have no doubt of that. The cooperation with Kadima Mada and the Ministry of Education has created a project whose fruits we will all enjoy in a short time.’