Post Covid-19 – The Future of Jewish Education?

By Jonathan Mirvis

In my book “It’s Our Challenge,” I cite the following theoretical situation:

It is known that a valuable object is to be found on the other side of a very high wall. Given its worth, a number of creative individuals become obsessed with retrieving it and devise a plan accordingly. A first individual uses a long fishing rod and line, and with the aid of a mirror tries to retrieve the object. A second drills a hole through the wall and tries to maneuver the object through it. A third brings a fire fighter ladder and tries to scale the wall. A fourth decides to dismantle the wall.

The wall represents the “rules of the game.” In the first three scenarios, the entrepreneurs work within the confines of the rules while the fourth endeavors to changes the rules

With the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, there appears to be a fifth scenario. There is an earth tremor and the wall collapses, changing the rules of the game unilaterally.

Covid-19 has not only become a global medical challenge, it has brought in its wake a financial crisis. This crisis is extensive with a global recession being inevitable. As such, when we move out of lockdown, we will find ourselves in a world that is radically different from the one we left with far reaching implications for diaspora Jewish education. Parents’ ability to pay for quality Jewish education will be limited and philanthropic resources will be under funded and overstretched.

Therefore, in moving forward, instead of resurrecting the past, we have an opportunity to develop a new vision for Jewish education that will excel in the four “P”s.

  • Attract multiple participants of all ages
  • Develop personnel that includes parents and peers in addition to teachers and informal educators
  • Operate at an affordable price
  • Offer high impact programming

While quarantine has been highly disruptive, we have learned some important lessons that could be the building blocks of our new future

  • The home environment can be a significant locus of education with parents taking far more responsibility for their children’s education
  • Technology has the potential to deliver both content and educational experiences
  • Many teachers when challenged to think creatively, have excelled in mastering the art of online instruction. Within a short time span, many have developed creative technology based educational activities
  • Students have discovered multiple avenues for attaining knowledge in the absence of formal instruction. Many are now learning from their peers, from informative resources on the web and have become self-directed learners

In addition to the above, we have also learned to appreciate the shortcomings of technology and value the importance of social face-to-face interaction.

While a Zoom lesson may be instructive, its limitations should not be overlooked. Many feel lonely and sorely miss the social interaction of a classroom. Furthermore, holistic education requires real life social experiences in peer settings. As such, social frameworks must be an integral part of our new educational future.

While the Covid-19 crisis has presented the educational community with huge challenges, it has also presented us with a historic opportunity. The spirit of creativity that has characterized the lockdown needs to be nurtured and enhanced. The wall has collapsed and it is our challenge and privilege to design and develop a new future

Dr Jonathan Mirvis is a Melton Centre Senior Lecturer in social entrepreneurship at the Hebrew University’s Seymour Fox School of Education. To mark the second printing of his book “It’s Our Challenge: A Social Entrepreneurship Approach to Jewish Education,” there will be a free Kindle download on Thursday April 30 and Sunday May 3 from 12am PST. To download the book please press here.