ORT South Africa steaming ahead


One of Africa’s most successful businessmen, Brian Joffe, has taken on the presidency of ORT South Africa. Having the founder and CEO of the $7.2 billion Bidvest conglomerate lead the organisation adds sparkle to its diamond anniversary year.

“It’s a great recognition for us that he is prepared to lend his name to ORT South Africa,” said ORT SA National Director Yehuda Kay. “Just having the weight of his name will help our fundraising efforts and will carry a lot of political good will as we do a lot of projects with government.”

Mr Joffe, ranked by Forbes high up on its list of the 20 most powerful people in African business, founded Bidvest in 1988 with $1 million and built the group into one of the continent’s largest conglomerates, an international services, trading and distribution company which employs more than 100,000 people around the world.

Last year, ORT SA launched its first formal fundraising campaign in 17 years with the aim of raising R 5.5 million ($675,000) in addition to its existing operational income streams and so build on its already extensive range of effective and respected education and training programmes – from raising the standard of maths and science teaching in township schools to providing vocational courses to senior high school students and mentoring for Jewish businesspeople.

ORT SA’s strategic approach has received a further boost by the addition of management consultant Darryl Weisz to the chairmanship of the organisation.

“Darryl has been a very successful manager in leading South African corporations and I look forward to his bringing his style and skills to the Board,” Mr Kay said. “We’re just full steam ahead into projects, now. We’re very focused on what we’re doing and I think it shows by the people who have agreed to head the organisation.”

Mr Kay was speaking soon after winding up the latest Naomi Prawer Kadar International Seminar for Digital Technology in Jewish Education. Organised mainly by World ORT’s Education Department in London, it was the second Naomi Prawer Kadar Seminar to be held but the first in South Africa. The Seminar takes the baton from the Terry and Jean de Gunzburg Jewish Education Seminar series, which concluded last year after a three-year run, and has been made possible thanks to the support of the Naomi Prawer Kadar Foundation.

The latest seminar brought 30 teachers up to date with skills and resources which they can use to make Jewish Studies relevant and engaging for their students. The main presenters were Peretz Tabor, an educator and technology trainer from Europe’s largest Jewish elementary school, the Michael Sobell Sinai School in London, and Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky, Director of Educational Technology at the Frisch School in New Jersey, who introduced tried and tested tools and resources that can be implemented into curriculum design, lesson planning, and other areas of teaching and learning at different levels.

Among the sessions were the use of Google Earth in the teaching of Tanakh, enabling students to use their cell phones to give instant feedback in class, the do’s and don’ts of making engaging presentations, and using ICT to make links between Jewish Studies and other areas of the curriculum.

“Whenever I meet teachers who were on either of the two previous de Gunzburg Seminars they never fail to say how, even after years of teaching, their approach had been revolutionised – they became much more interactive,” Mr Kay said. “They had been in a period of complacency and the Seminar really changed them and got them to think. One teacher told me she felt like she had just qualified – and she was already a highly qualified and experienced educator. While it’s too early to say just what an effect this latest seminar will have had, the feedback from participants has been particularly good.”

The Head of World ORT’s Education Department, Daniel Tysman, said this seminar had taken a different approach from the ones before.

“In previous seminars we had focused on practical tools that educators could take away from the seminar and implement straight away. During this seminar we tried to introduce a few more challenging ideas that are more sophisticated pedagogically,”? Mr Tysman said.

These included “flipping the classroom”?, in which children go through material provided by their teacher as preparatory homework so that subsequent class time can be used more productively for closer examination, explanation and application of the subject matter.

Participants were also led through the building of student-generated wikis, an on-line collaborative framework which enables kids to share, edit and discuss their coursework.

Rabbi Dani Brett, of Cape Town, was among many of the participants who said their expectations had been exceeded.

“It was a phenomenal experience thanks to the incredibly high calibre of all the staff involved,” he said.

Another participant added that he had learned “way more than I could ever have imagined that I would be able to understand and do”.

General Director of the South African Board of Jewish Education, Rabbi Craig Kacev, said that technology was a tool that could improve the performance of an effective teacher but it was not an end in itself – and its poor use could poison a class.

“Achieving this balance depends on training, practice and being comfortable with experimentation,” Rabbi Kacev said. “It is workshops like these that allow the teachers to experiment, network and question.”