I recently wrote, “… I’ve come to understand why ORT operates as a bridge to the world of high-tech for Russia. I see why both of these organizations [referring to Limmud FSU and World ORT], in their own way, are important for Russia, important for our Jewish world and important for Israel.” After reading the post, a communal professional, for whom I have great regard, asked why I thought ORT was important for Russia. The answer is pretty simple: through their network of eighteen schools in the FSU they have become a technology facilitator.
Let’s begin with the following; in Russia today, at all levels, students study what they need to, not what they want to. The emphasis is on teaching skills to help students succeed in life. This is why the over-emphasis on the sciences, technology and even English. And the measure of this success is the high aspirational level among the students to become professionals.
In the ORT affiliated schools, there is heavy use of computers in all teaching; from English and Hebrew language instruction, to computer assisted design (CAD). Whether in the science lab, or the music lab, from 1st grade on, technology is intertwined with education. In every school I visited, classrooms were equipped with the latest interactive whiteboards. So while the country itself remains pretty conservative, teaching methods are moving quickly from the traditional to the modern.
But the bridge is most clearly shown with the relationships that ORT schools have built with global technology powerhouses. ORT’s De Gunzburg School (St. Petersburg) is the only school in Russia to be chosen as a Microsoft Pathfinder School – a 10-year, $500 million commitment by Microsoft to help thirty schools and their teachers more effectively use technology to advance teaching and learning.
ORT high schools in Moscow, St Petersburg and Samara have also been awarded significant technology grants from Hewlett-Packard, allowing the respective schools to purchase the latest hardware and be in a position for students to enjoy a computer accessibility ratio of 1 to 2.5 compared to 1 to 15 for the country.
The cutting-edge technology has also provided a silver lining as it relates to Jewish education; Dr. Marina Moiseeva, principal of Moscow’s ORT Technology School, told me that due to the money, and partnerships, made available through ORT, those who teach Jewish subjects have become more motivated, the school is able to employ a higher caliber of teachers and is able to retain them longer. All this has certainly played a major part in this school being recognized by the government as one of the top in Moscow (and considering the hundreds of high schools serving the city’s 10m+ population, this is no small achievement).