ORT students: ‘Coronavirus has inspired us – to learn and to help others’


The Covid-19 crisis has had a profound impact on ORT students around the world, not only altering how they learn, but providing a new way of looking at themselves, their families and their societies.

This was the message delivered by youngsters in Brazil, Israel, Bulgaria and Spain during a special online briefing which provided an inspiring insight into life in lockdown.

Monday’s session saw around 100 people join the conversation from around the world, including in the United States, Ukraine, Russia, Switzerland, the UK and almost all of the more than 30 countries in which ORT operates.

Watch the recording:

The participants heard from 18-year-old Samuel, a student at the Ibn Gabirol Estrella Toledano School in Madrid. He explained how Covid-19 has affected his learning experience during more than 40 days of lockdown at home.

“Even before the state of emergency was declared, our headmaster met us and discussed how to proceed if we had to stay at home, how we could work with technological advances. This has really helped us to keep learning.

“We are working as hard as ever from home. We are even taking exams that are set remotely. There has been a huge effort from our teachers and the staff.”

Facing challenges head-on

Samuel said the biggest challenge he had faced had been “keeping a clear mind and not stressing out” while juggling the isolation, fears about the pandemic and his school work.

“Our school counsellor has had meetings with us every day to discuss our problems, concerns and interests. I am an active person but I could not go for a run or long walk as I used to.”

A graduate of the World ORT STEM Summer School in Israel, the Spanish student said the organization had helped him learn to be open-minded and to help others, and he described how fellow summer school graduates had worked together during the crisis to assist each other with non-academic concerns and issues.

Dan, a student at Escola ORT in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, also described how he and his peers had adapted. He said he appreciated the extra time he now had to study for his exams and focus on his school grades.

The 17-year-old said: “The whole school changed in two weeks – we prepared ourselves for the online classes and then we started, every day, our regular classes.”

After experiencing difficulties studying his electronics course online, Dan and his classmates found online simulators and other practical workarounds to ensure they could continue to complete their projects.

He added: “I have had more time with my family – usually I would see my parents only at dinner time but now we have chance to interact a little more; they are still working and I am still studying, but we have more time.”

This was a message echoed by 15-year-old Ronit in Bulgaria. She said with her mother and sister also working from home, Covid-19 had brought them closer.

A student at the 134th ‘Dimcho Debelianov’ ORT school in Sofia, Ronit said studying at home and understanding school materials in a different setting had been challenging.

“It was hard for me, because I am the type of person that needs a teacher in front of them physically to understand fully the lesson. Luckily I overcame it – my mother helps me with whatever material she knows and I study with my friends on video chat.”

The Israeli-born student said she was appreciative that the school had done everything possible to ensure students could finish the academic year, adding: “Our school is one of the most improved in the whole country – which gives us more motivation to study or work there.”

Identifying opportunities

For Faina, a 17-year-old Belarus-born student who made aliyah and now lives in Kiryat Yam, Israel, the coronavirus crisis has also been an opening to new possibilities.

She said a group of ORT teenagers from the town’s Rabin High School had been inspired to help others.

“Those of us who do not have difficulties going out for a small period of time go to supermarkets or any shops that are open and buy products and supplies for the older people in our city who cannot go out. We buy them what they need, take it to their homes and do what we can to help them.”

Faina also praised her school and Israel’s Ministry of Education for “doing everything possible” to support students who will be taking their bagrut examinations at the end of the academic year. She said there had been a 25 percent reduction in the materials they would be tested on, meaning fewer topics to study, and plentiful support and assistance from teachers.

Dr Conrad Giles, World ORT President, gave session participants an overview of the scale of the difficulties facing the organization.

He said: “We are being challenged today probably as much as at any time in our 140-year history. But what doesn’t change is our obligation to the education of our students.

“Their challenges are increased – but fortunately we are well-versed in education through technology – one of the hallmarks of ORT and its pedagogy. We will meet these challenges, we have done it in the past and we will do it in the future.

“Seeing the students is an inspiration. We have learnt a lot, as they have. Each of them said the time at home had allowed for introspection – that has great value. As well as being tested, we are being rewarded.”

Dan Green, Acting CEO and Director General of World ORT, said ORT families around the world were already voicing their concerns about the financial impact coronavirus is likely to have, particularly making it difficult for parents to pay private school fees.

Mr Green thanked the students for explaining how they were coping with the situation and described them as the “life-blood” of ORT.

Judy Menikoff, Chair of ORT’s Board of Trustees, also expressed thanks to the participants and said the future was in safe hands with such talented students.