Are basic literacy, Jewish culture and Judaic values still adequate to enable Jews to change the world?
[This article is part 5 of the series Continuing Conversations on Leveraging Educational Technology to Advance Jewish Learning. The series is a project of Jewish Funders Network, the Jim Joseph Foundation, and the William Davidson Foundation. For an in-depth look at opportunities in Jewish Ed Tech and digital engagement, read Smart Money: Recommendations for an Educational Technology and Digital Engagement Investment Strategy. Later this year, Jewish Funders Network will launch a new website to help advance the field of Jewish educational technology.]
By Jarred Myers and Nicky Newfield
For almost two thousand years, ever since High Priest Yehoshua Ben Gamla instituted history’s first public schooling system, basic education has been universal and mandatory in the Jewish world. This focus and near-obsession with literacy has much to do with Jewish economic success over the centuries, and enabled the immense contribution of Jews to society and humanity. Through a combination of advanced literacy, a rich culture, and strong, adhesive values, Jews as individuals have benefitted the world in every major field. Recent decades have seen this play out at a national level with the disproportionately large contributions Israel has made to science and technology, and the “Start-up Nation’s” overall catalytic impact on advancing human progress.
BRAVE NEW WORLD
The world has shifted. Are basic literacy, Jewish culture and Judaic values still adequate to enable Jews to change the world?
Both in and outside of Israel, basic literacy levels are high, but this is no longer the differentiator it always was. We have entered a digital age that The World Economic Forum (WEF) refers to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and which, by 2020, will have brought us advanced robotics, autonomous transport and artificial intelligence, and quantum leaps in machine learning, biotechnology and genomics. How well prepared are Jewish educational systems for the next generation?
The WEF Future Workforce Strategy report states that most children entering schools today will ultimately work in new job types that currently don’t yet exist. Yet most current education systems, whether at primary, secondary or tertiary level, still provide highly siloed learning, and continue outmoded 20th century practices. The world is clearly changing, almost day to day. The question is, what is the Jewish response?
CONTINUING THE JEWISH MISSION
The questions surrounding the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on Jewish education are two-fold. Firstly, how does this impact how we educate generally, both in Israel and abroad? Secondly, more specifically, how does this affect the way we educate for Jewish values? A third, related question is, given this future reality, what can we collectively do to foster an enabling environment to harness these educational and technological advances?
While it is clear that the question of educational reform in the digital age is a global challenge, this article seeks to contextualize the issue within the Jewish world. But before we explore how funders should address these challenges we need to underline why it is important that there be a specific Jewish response.
No ink will be spilt on elaborating why we need to educate our children for the future workplace. But it is vital to understand how these changes impact the Jewish mission at large. Tikkun Olam, changing the world for the better, has forever been at the forefront of Jewish identity and Jewish destiny. By failing to adapt to a brave new world, are we hampering our ability to carry out this sacred mission, and eroding our future impact as a nation?
Israel’s seismic global impact in recent decades in areas such agriculture, education, healthcare, business and communication technology clearly demonstrates the power of combining education, culture and values to benefit the world. What is unclear, however, is how we educate to ensure the future Jewish workforce has the raw materials to both sustain and accelerate this impact. How do we move from The Start-up Nation to The Scale-up Nation?
The solution proposed by the authors is that a combination of (1) revamped education, (2) relevant Jewish education which accesses the best practices in educational technologies, and (3) an enabling environment, are required to recalibrate the Jewish people with their historic mission.
THE NEXT STEP
In 64CE basic literacy was mandated and implemented amongst the Jewish people literally centuries ahead of its time. It has served us well until recently. Crucially, this system emerged, not from divine fiat, but from an educational crisis amongst the people – a crisis that was reversed promptly and decisively by the leaders of the generation. Similarly far-sighted intervention is needed for the next evolutionary step in education. Today, as then, the call to action for our leaders is clear. We must educate our children with 21st century skills. We also must transmit Jewish values in a way which is relevant to 21st century learners. To avoid mixed messaging, our leaders need to ensure Jewish continuity by providing both, general and Jewish education, utilizing the same cutting edge educational technologies.
Our hypothesis is as follows:
By educating Jewish learners for the future workforce and transmitting Jewish values optimally, while fostering an enabling environment that harnesses these skills and values, we will enable future generations to successfully deliver on our divine mission of Tikkun Olam as engaged Jews, aiding the progress of humanity.
Our forthcoming contributions to this broader series on educational technology seek to address the three key questions that we believe require attention from strategic funders. They are:
- Revamped education: How do we nurture the necessary cross-functional skills, cognitive abilities and basic skills?
- Jewish values: How do we leverage evolving educational technologies to boost existing efforts in meaningfully transmitting Jewish values?
- Enabling environment: How do we foster an ecosystem that will continue to embrace technological advances in the service of Jewish education?
Jarred Myers manages an Innovation Portfolio for a Private Family Foundation, using venture philanthropy and mission investing tools, he focusses on technology driven solutions for education and employment. Nicky Newfield is the Founder and Executive Director of Jewish Interactive and is a trustee of the Glatt Charitable Foundation.