It is the middle of a particularly hot, dry summer in Israel; not the time one would think the people there are in need of more sunshine. But for children in hospital it can be as gloomy as an English winter.
But World ORT’s SASA Setton Kav Or programme is lightening up the experience for thousands of kids with distance learning technology bringing fun-filled learning for classes at the schools at each of Israel’s 27 public hospitals as well as one-to-one tuition for long-term patients.
“It’s like a ray of sunshine in the hospital,”? said SASA Setton Kav Or Distance Learning Coordinator Tami Horovitz. “The children love it and the teachers are so happy that there’s someone else in the classroom with them.”?
Over the past eight months World ORT “ﾓ in cooperation with Israel’s Ministries of Education, Health and Welfare, and the Prime Minister’s Office and thanks to a major donation from the Swiss-based SASA Setton Foundation “ﾓ has invested significantly in revitalising the Kav Or (Ray of Light) nationwide hospital education network, installing wireless Internet connections, providing Interactive Whiteboards, desktop and laptop computers, robotics kits, training for teachers and volunteers, and revamping the SASA Setton Kav Or website. But one of the most significant improvements brought in by World ORT’s programmatic arm in Israel, Kadima Mada, since it joined forces with SASA Setton Kav Or late last year is the huge increase in distance learning provision.
Less than a year ago, funding issues meant that SASA Setton Kav Or was unable to provide the regular distance learning it wanted to. Now, two hours of classes on a wide variety of subjects are channelled into the hospitals via the Internet every day “ﾓ exploring topics such as pirates and dinosaurs to practising English-language skills and challenging older children with presentations on ecology and biology. Lessons are provided in both Hebrew and Arabic to serve children throughout the country.
Each participating child has his own laptop, headset and microphone; the computer screen is filled with images and text which complement what the teacher is saying.
“Our goal is to use technology to reduce the educational gap experienced by children who miss school because of hospital treatment,”? said Avi Ganon, who is managing the SASA Setton Kav Or project. “We are close to ending the first stage, which is giving the necessary equipment and teacher training to all the hospitals in order to create one high standard and so allow us to provide a unified educational programme. Stage two will see us building on that with more advanced equipment and programmes, including science labs, and providing additional resources for isolated children in oncology wards and psychiatric hospitals.”?
The classes are ideal for most of the children who spend only a few days in hospital, but for the few who spend weeks or even months undergoing treatment it is the one-to-one private tuition which has a potentially life-changing effect.
SASA Setton Kav Or staff are particularly proud of Michael, who, thanks to the private tuition he received during four months at the Beit Levinstein Rehabilitation Hospital in Ra’anana where he was undergoing intensive treatment for cerebral palsy.
“He is in a wheelchair, can’t talk clearly and can’t write but he can type slowly so can use the laptop provided by us,”? Ms Horovitz said. “He was determined to pass the Bagrut [high school matriculation] history exam so we provided him with a lesson every day which he taped so he could listen to it over and over again. His teacher from the hospital school, Anat Elkalai, stayed with him during the distance learning lessons and typed for him to make the best use of the time available.”?
Despite being a year behind in his schooling, the individualised programme built around his needs allowed Michael to catch up. Not only did he manage to pass the exam, he scored an outstanding 90 per cent.
“We were all delighted because he’s such a special, determined young man,”? Ms Horovitz said. “The distance learning was essential because it gave him access to teachers who were qualified to teach at Bagrut level.”?
In a letter of thanks to the SASA Setton Foundation Michael said he was happy and proud of his exam score.
“I am so grateful for the chance to take the exam and to feel like any other student in class even though I was in hospital for a long, difficult period,”? he wrote.
Such personal tuition also proved highly successful for Itamar who, at 15, is two years younger than Michael. A keen sportsman, Itamar was struck down by a rare disease which left him unable to walk. Fortunately, he has been able to regain use of his limbs but the treatment, also at Beit Levinstein, took six months.
“We helped him in history, Bible, maths and Hebrew and he did so well that when he went home his parents continued the tuition at their own expense so he was able to catch up very quickly with his schoolwork and pass his exams,”? Ms Horovitz said.
While he was in hospital SASA Setton Kav Or also provided him with a digital camera. The control Itamar enjoyed in taking pictures, making movies and editing them proved invaluable in boosting his morale and motivation at a time when everything he did was dictated by his illness.
“Currently only two or three hospitalised students a week in the whole country need such personal tuition,”? Ms Horovitz said. “But we are committed to, and capable of, providing one-to-one distance learning for many more children should it ever be necessary. Not only that, we are due to double the number of hours we provide for classes so that the hospital schools can extend into the afternoons.”?
To make it even more appealing for children there are plans to invite celebrities to appear in distance learning classes from time to time. Doctors, too, can participate and answer children’s questions about illnesses and treatments in a bid to reduce any anxiety they may have.
The World ORT programme also works in full cooperation with SASA Setton Kav Or’s 300-plus volunteer supporters.
These volunteers continue to play a vital role. Among them are two Arab and one Jewish biotechnology undergraduates who are each receiving a joint Kadima Mada-Perach scholarship, funded mainly by ORT America, to cover their tuition fees; in return they have been trained to teach science to the hospitalised children through the distance learning programme.
“They are young so they can talk to the kids in a special way that really engages them,”? Ms Horovitz said.
Other undergraduates on the scholarship programme are volunteering for SASA Setton Kav Or at hospitals in Nahariya and Tsfat. And teachers at the hospital schools receive invaluable support from religious girls who work full days there as part of their national service, some of whom are organised by SASA Setton Kav Or and funded by the SASA Setton Foundation.
She concluded: “SASA Setton Kav Or is a great programme and feel honoured to be a part of it. And I know that the hospitals’ teaching staff are having a wonderful time and learning so much. What they do and what SASA Setton Kav Or provides complement each other nicely.”?
Kadima Mada Executive Director Rony Kalinsky knows from personal experience the importance of providing these young patients with educational opportunities.
“I spent nearly nine months in hospital when I was 17 and took all my Bagrut exams there,”? Mr Kalinsky said. “I know just how challenging it is to learn while ill but I also know that having the opportunity to keep up with schoolwork while in hospital helps to maintain morale and speeds your recovery.”?