Using technology wisely

Can technology be guided by Tikkun Olam values?

It is essential for us to make alliances with technology and partnerships with those who provide it

Making the world a better place by using the latest advances in technology. It sounds so simple, but how do we turn it from a concept into a reality as we face the future after this period of unparalleled uncertainty?

As the professional leading our approach to innovation and technology at my Jewish school in Mexico City, I am doubly blessed. Why? First because so many of the positive global changes seen over the past two decades are a result of the dramatic evolution of technology.

So many significant improvements in people’s lives – better healthcare, advanced education, increased connectivity – are due to the progress made by countless scientists, developers and explorers who had their minds stimulated during their own school days. It is a joy to play even a small role in these advances for humanity and our civilization.

The second blessing is that I work at a school infused with strong Jewish values and an understanding of what it means to contribute to wider society and improve the well-being of all. 

The concept of Tikkun Olam – healing the world – is at the core of our Jewish identity, and a priority for us in our school and across our global ORT network. Being part of a quest to make the world a better place is powerful for me and my students.

But with this depth of change in our societies, homes and classrooms comes the need for responsibility. We are all familiar with concerns around data leaks, misuse of facial recognition tools, and the misuse of technology for anti-democratic activities or human rights abuses. 

It is essential that we use technology as a force for good, and provide our students with not just the proficiencies and skills needed to adapt to the modern working world, but also the moral understanding and global outlook to use these opportunities for positive purposes. 

This has been the ongoing focus in our school for years. It has taken on even greater relevance as we look at the post-pandemic education arena and the weighty challenge of trying to make up for the learning loss that has taken place. 

How can we combine our natural tendency towards Tikkun Olam with the developing trends in technology?

Creativity is part of the answer. Schools must understand what to teach. There is no point focussing on specific programs or approaches that may be outdated or no longer available when the students graduate. We cannot waste our limited resources and their time.

Instead we use the most relevant, cost-effective methods for taking advantage of the technology available to us. The school harnesses freely-available technology and finds the balance between creativity and affordability. This way we can change children’s lives within the realities of our economic and educational frameworks. 

Years ago we had liberal arts in one department, science in another, and technology was a completely separate subject. We didn’t know how to apply it in our everyday life. Now we have interdisciplinary projects in our school. Students combine all these areas. This is the right path to making education more integrated. 

It helps our students think in more critical ways. If we have a project about water scarcity – a reality in our country – then they come up with solutions. We take these solutions to communities on the frontline of these issues and offer assistance. Last year CIM-ORT students were acknowledged with an international social responsibility award after using their robotics skills to make a prosthetic arm for a young Mexican boy who lost a limb in a fireworks accident.

These experiences with real life applications enable children to harness technology to help solve local and even global challenges. It is a culture which encourages students to express their own ideas, to develop personal projects, to use the school itself as a tool for sharing knowledge and developing life-long learning skills.

It is essential for us to make alliances with technology and partnerships with those who provide it. By sharing our students’ fantastic ideas and experiences with those in the professional world of start-ups and corporate entities, we can scale-up the possibilities and make opportunities a reality.

By creating an abundance of goodwill and talent across the 30-plus countries of our own ORT network, and by coupling our generations-old values to the developments of the modern world, I am confident we are already engendering a growth mindset and improving lives for the future.

Liora Zyman is academic director of technology and innovation at the Colegio Israelita de Mexico ORT (CIM-ORT) in Mexico City. The school is part of World ORT’s global education network driven by Jewish values.