In a welcome display of political unity, mayors from more than 30 municipalities across Israel’s north have joined Government ministers in signing a declaration committing themselves to an ambitious multi-million-dollar plan spearheaded by World ORT “ﾓ through its operational arm in Israel, Kadima Mada “ﾓ to install more than 400 high-tech “smart classrooms”? into their communities’ schools.
More than 350 people filled the auditorium of the Strauss Municipal Conservatorium in Akko on Thursday to witness this milestone in the development of Israel’s public education system.
The crowd included municipal education chiefs, principals and senior teachers from the 87 schools due to benefit from the three-year project as well as VIPs including Michael Strauss, co-founder of Israel’s second largest food and beverage company, Yossi Tanuri, Director General of the United Israel Appeal of Canada, and Ted Sokolsky, President and CEO of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. They watched as Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee, Silvan Shalom, added their names to the document which had been signed earlier by the mayors.
“To have not one but two government ministers make time for this event, not to mention dozens of mayors representing a wide range of opinion, is a stirring sign of the unity of purpose which this project provides,”? said World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer.
“What has been created is an exemplary partnership between ministries, municipalities and the Third Sector focused on meeting the needs of young Israelis. The fact that everyone invited was able to attend and that they all expressed satisfaction with the project shows the importance that everyone places on the development of the Galilee and of World ORT’s role in it.”?
In 2008, Kadima Mada tripled the number of “ﾘsmart classrooms’ in Israel by equipping 60 rooms in Jewish and non-Jewish schools with Interactive Whiteboards, wireless Internet connectivity and other technological aids in six campuses and providing on-going teacher training in their use.
The Galilee-wide programme, whose implementation will be overseen by Kadima Mada, uses the experience gained from that pilot project to introduce the technology to elementary, junior and high schools catering to the Jewish, Arab, Druze, Bedouin and Circassian sectors of society. World ORT is investing NIS 16 million in it and the Ministry for Development of the Galilee and the Negev NIS 15 million.
Signatories to Thursday’s document are committed to a full partnership in implementing what is now known as the Schulich Canada Smart Classrooms Initiative, after Toronto-based philanthropist Seymour Schulich donated $2 million to the programme just before Pesach in partnership with the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.
This includes teachers actively participating in the 120 hours of pedagogical training provided and funded by the Ministry of Education, and that each municipality provides its schools with the necessary infrastructure to support the new classrooms.
Addressing the launch, Mr Shalom said: “This important project is a beginning towards amending the injustice that those who are without resources are unable to acquire the technological skills needed in the 21st century. I believe that by strengthening the education system it will be possible to strengthen the children of the Galilee in particular and Israeli society in general.”?
By bridging the resource gap between education providers in the northern periphery and those in the traditionally well-funded central conurbation, the project would help him realise his vision of bringing another 300,000 people to live in the Galilee.
“Education is one of the most important issues when a parent has to make a decision as to whether to stay in, or move to, an area and this is why this investment is so important,”? he said.
Mr Sa’ar reminded those attending that the technology was not a panacea.
“There is currently a wide gap between the technological world outside the school walls and the environment within,”? he said. “Yet for this project to succeed it is more than a matter of just providing the basics; teachers need to undergo training and believe in the vision. The Interactive Whiteboard allows for individualised teaching which will make all the difference in the classroom “ﾓ but first and foremost it is up to the teachers.”?
Mr Sokolsky told the Israelis that their talk of “ﾘthe periphery’ was a difficult concept to grasp for people like him and Mr Schulich, who came from a province of Canada far larger than the entire Jewish State.
“On the other hand, Canadians are used to talking about “ﾘfrontiers’ and we can understand very well how in Israel the “ﾘperiphery’ is very much a frontier “ﾓ in more ways than one,”? he said.
Dr Orna Simchon, Head of the Northern Division of the Ministry of Education, had opened the afternoon’s proceedings by noting that the project was unique because it provided on-line, interactive, technological teaching to all sectors of Israeli society, not just ethnic groups but also religious and secular, city residents and those on kibbutzim and agricultural cooperatives.
“These innovative and up-to-date facilities have the strength to empower achievements and outputs with regard to values and with regard to study grades,”? Dr Simchon said. “Today’s pupils are exposed to a digital world, to “ﾘsmart classrooms’, to studies through video, blogs and wireless networks. It is our responsibility as educators to adapt the learning environment and the education system’s syllabus so that it will function optimally in the technological and communicative culture of the 21st century.”?
The enthusiasm of the educators for the programme was summed up by Zachi Barbara, Principal of the Abu Sna’an High School, who said after the event: “We are really looking forward to installing the “ﾘsmart classrooms’ and everything which this entails. Abu Sna’an’s municipality has already begun to make formal plans with regard to the investments that they need to make in the school for this project to take place. We are among the first to receive this equipment so we want to ensure that we will be ready in time.”?
Moti Dotan, the Mayor of the Lower Galilee Region and a member of World ORT’s Board of Trustees, paid tribute to Kadima Mada’s ability to work in full cooperation with government ministries.
“I have no doubt that this joint collaboration, under Kadima Mada’s leadership, will transform the future generation of pupils in the Galilee,”? Mr Dotan said.
After the ceremonial part of the proceedings there was a convention to provide information for the educators and mayors on the project and its implementation.
This included a presentation by the Executive Director of Kadima Mada, Rony Kalinsky, on the obligations of municipalities to provide and maintain infrastructure, including a film showing all the components of a “ﾘsmart class’ as well as showing one in use at Kadoorie Youth Village, one of the participants in the Kadima Mada pilot project.
“We believe that through establishing interactive classrooms we will be bringing technology closer to teachers and pupils and will be providing them with the opportunity to acquire life skills in a world where the Internet is an indivisible part of daily life and where technological skills offer a range of possibilities for enriching teaching and learning processes,”? Mr Kalinsky said.
There was also a lecture on Leadership during the Introduction of Changes in Education through Advanced Technologies by Dr Danny Ben-Zvi of the University of Haifa; a Ministry of Education film on using “ﾘsmart class’ technology to teach the spectrum of subjects in schools, not just science and technology; and a lecture by Rony Dayan, the Head of the Computer Applications Department in the Ministry of Education’s Science and Technology Division, on the On-Line Teacher.
World ORT Chief Operating Officer Sonia Gomes de Mesquita attended the launch event. The coming together of ministers, mayors, educators with representatives of Kadima Mada and Jewish communal organisations showed, she said, the great progress which could be made through strong partnerships.
“The presence of ministers and mayors demonstrated the trust these elected officials have in Kadima Mada as a professional organisation,”? Ms Gomes de Mesquita said. “Everyone present understood the importance of education in the lives of all Israeli students meaning these partnerships have the potential to bring a real change in the teaching and learning processes in the region.”?
The pivotal role of Canadian philanthropist Mr Schulich in supporting the wide scale introduction of interactive classrooms to Israel has been a source of pride for ORT Canada.
Lindy Meshwork, Executive Director of ORT Toronto, said: “This represents a major breakthrough in the recognition of the important work that ORT does throughout the world. It is cause for significant celebration at ORT Canada.”?