ORT connects communities with videoconferencing


25 January 2008 ORT connects communities with videoconferencing World ORT has opened up new educational horizons for Jewish students around the world with the establishment of a videoconferencing network in 26 locations in 11 countries. The network, which has been made possible by the generosity of British businessman David Gradel, provides cost-effective, interactive links for students and educators in Israel, Russia, Ukraine, France, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Mexico, Australia, Italy, Uruguay and Argentina. Our plans are coming to fruition. This is what we hoped for, this is what we planned for, and now we see it happening, Mr Gradel (pictured with, from left, Drs Vlad Lerner and Yakov Ronkin) said this week after talking to ORT students in Vilnius and Moscow via the first videoconference link from a new dedicated facility at ORT House, London. Its a complicated infrastructure to put in place but once youve got it, the skys the limit. The Head of World ORTs Education and Technology Department, Dr Vlad Lerner, said that this week marked the launch of the second phase of World ORTs videoconferencing project. The first phase, which formally started last year, was the purchase of equipment and delivering it to the countries involved. We kicked off this second phase of realisation with an videoconference between Professor Zeev Dashevsky of Bar-Ilan Universitys Lookstein Centre and ORT students in Vilnius and Kiev on the interaction of Jewish tradition and scientific progress, Dr Lerner said. Also, World ORT Research and Development Coordinator Dr Yakov Ronkin held a Maths Club with children at ORT schools in Moscow and Odessa, a course enrichment project for students with a special interest, or talent, in mathematics. We have a programme of more than 40 videoconferencing events planned for this year and all of them will be conducted in the local languages, Dr Lerner said. I am very happy with this; its a great development. Its important to remember that while videoconferencing allows students access to expertise around the world, it offers far more than simply lectures. We can now have kids in different countries collaborating closely on educational projects, talking to each other, taking part in competitions and sharing the celebration of Jewish festivals. The technology allows students and teachers to quickly forget the distance between them so that they feel like theyre in the same room. The only way that we could develop closer bonds between participants would be to physically bring them together but that is prohibitively expensive. Mr Gradel, the owner and chairman of London-based property investment and development company UK Estates, has a long-standing interest in the potential of videoconferencing to provide cost-effective educational solutions for geographically dispersed Jewish students. I want to reinforce to Jewish communities around the world that they are not alone they are part of something bigger, he said in April 2005 after funding World ORTs first educational videoconference an on-line workshop for Jewish studies teachers in Russia with experts in Israel. Later that year, Mr Gradel sponsored the first educational videoconference between the Lookstein Centre and ORT Argentina. Mr Gradels support directly funded new videoconferencing facilities in 10 locations. This triggered funding from other sources for a further 16 new facilities, including six in Israel. Following this weeks launch, Mr Gradel committed a further $75,000 to the videoconferencing programme over the next four years half the estimated running costs. Dasha, a Moscow student who had enjoyed Dr Ronkins Maths Club, told Mr Gradel: We learned a lot today. Thank you very much for providing us with the opportunity to participate in such an amazing event. And Misha Yakobas, Principal of ORT Vilnius Shalom Aleichem Jewish School, said: Thank you for the innovation you have brought to our school. Its a significant and beautiful step forward and our children learned a lot. This is just the beginning. I am sure that this approach has a great future. We will do our best to make full use of this equipment.