Diaspora Jewish Leaders Discuss New Educational Partnership with Israel’s Government

It used to be that when global Jewish organizations, or even individual donors, spoke about creating partnerships in Israel it translated to, “we’re paying, so do as we say.” Fortunately, a new wind is blowing and the word partnership truly means partnership.

The newest initiative under discussion involves a far-reaching, and exciting, plan to raise the positioning of Israel’s educational system in the international arena. Israel’s Ministry of Education calls the plan, Adapting the Education System to the 21st Century.

At an October 19th meeting in New York, facilitated by World ORT, and attended by the most senior leadership of JDC, JFNA, two major federations and several foundations, Dr. Shimshon Shoshani, Director General of the Ministry of Education, laid out a new vision,

The education system will prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century and will improve the scientific and technological capabilities of the State of Israel.

As someone who lives here, I can tell you this is long overdue.

According to Dr. Shoshani, the aims of the initiative are:

  • Teaching 21st Century skills;
  • Reducing the educational and digital gap;
  • Improving teachers’ capabilities;
  • Strengthening the connection between school, community and home.

The Government of Israel is serious about this – so much so they have committed big money  ($120m. by 2012) to have the following underway during the current school year:

  • 200 elementary schools in the north and south – engaged in a basic model;
  • 20 demonstration schools throughout the country;
  • 5 teacher training colleges (2 south, 2 north, 1 center) to receive new technology;
  • Adapting 6-10 syllabi to the 21st Century (emphasis on elementary school);
  • 10 local authorities from Israel’s center (provided they supply the equipment and operation budget);
  • Preparing 670 further elementary schools – basic model;
  • Preparing 20 further demonstration schools;
  • Preparing 5 further teacher training colleges.

Not only is the Ministry of Education behind this initiative, but the Ministry of Finance has blessed the project, a necessary step in Israel to actually having the money to go forward.

World ORT, with a successful track record of implementing and managing similar programs around the world, will take a lead role through its operational arm in Israel, Kadima Mada. Through their implementation of a variety of technological and educational projects in Israel, World ORT has already developed a strong relationship with the Ministry.

Even with money, and buy-in, there are still challenges to be addressed.

The first, as without this the project is doomed to failure, is the serious problem of infrastructure as it relates to Israel’s wireless network. It’s hard to believe that this country, home to some of the most exciting technology developments in history, is so far behind in this regard. I can tell you, I’ve had less problems with Internet connections in Moscow than in Jerusalem. This is clearly a weak link.

A second challenge is the quality of teachers in Israel. Our classrooms are the most crowded of any OECD country, salaries are at the lower end, and the average age of teachers the oldest. The highest shortage of quality teachers occurs in the sciences, math and English. Young graduates do not find teaching a priority occupation. There are initiatives under way, including one with recruiting talented individuals from the army, but these all take time to bear fruit.

A third challenge is achieving buy-in from the growing Arab and Haredi communities. The latter comprises approximately 50% of the Jewish population of kindergarten students today.

The results of those countries that have introduced technology into the education system, even on the most basic level, are amongst the best academically achieving countries; for example Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, Singapore and Sweden.

So, why the New York pow wow? To discuss potential partnerships between the Government and the Diaspora. It is hoped this will become an engagement tool to inspire both philanthropists and individual donors to participate. Considering who was in attendance, there is reason for optimism.

In closing the session, Dr. Shoshani, in a view one hears more and more coming from the Israeli political hierarchy, said, “Let’s continue to do our work for the Jewish people.”

Good thought; and with Sunday’s opening of the Federation system’s GA, what a perfect place to start. It’s long past time to put egos and individual agendas on the back-burner. It’s time to work together. We came together as a community to support Israel in time of war; to support aliyah from Ethiopia and the FSU countries. The challenges of today are no less important, so let’s just do it – and not just talk about it.

Shabbat Shalom.