World ORT Leverages Canadian Gift in Israel

World ORT is spearheading the introduction of interactive educational technology in Israel’s under-resourced southern communities thanks to a $2.2 million donation by Canadian philanthropist Seymour Schulich – his second investment in this program in just four months.

Mr Schulich’s initial $2.1 million investment in March enabled World ORT to launch the pioneering program in the north of Israel through its local programmatic arm, Kadima Mada. By the end of this summer vacation 206 classes in 40 schools in 13 communities will have been fitted with Interactive Whiteboards, laptops and other equipment. Another 209 Smart classes, as well as training for teachers in their use, will be rolled out over the next two years. The program will “bring about an educational and social revolution.” said Sylvan Shalom, the Minister for Development of the Galilee and Negev and Vice Prime Minister.

This, the first stage of what has been named the Schulich Canada Smart Classroom Initiative, follows Kadima Mada’s two-year pilot in which 10 Smart classes were installed in each of six schools, more than tripling the number of such classrooms that were then in use throughout the entire country.

Now, armed with Mr Schulich’s additional $2.2 million funding through UJA Federation of Greater Toronto plus an additional $1 million match from the Toronto Federation, World ORT has also committed additional match of $1 million and is ready to sweep through disadvantaged southern communities in the same way.

The Ministry for Development of the Negev and Galilee is providing $4.2 million in matching funds, the Ministry of Education $2.43 million for teacher training and local municipalities a further $2.63 million, together meeting the $13.5 million cost of Stage II of the Schulich Canada Smart Classroom Initiative. ORT Canada and other ORT National organizations will focus most of their 2010-2011 Israel related campaigns on raising funds for the smart classes.

Stages I and II of the Schulich Initiative represent a total investment of more than $25 million (NIS 95 million). Stage I has brought large and long-lasting benefits to 45,000 students and more than 4,000 teachers in 87 schools in 38 communities. An estimated 7,500 students and 750 teachers are expected to benefit from the initial phase of Stage II alone.

“The success of the Initiative became apparent so quickly that World ORT and the Israeli Government discussed taking the project on to the next step – to reach out to new regions and to broaden access to academic advancement by expanding the benefits to parents and entire communities,” according to World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer. “Thanks to the generosity and vision of Mr Schulich and the Greater Toronto Federation those discussions can be transformed into action which promises to unlock the latent potential of Israel’s next generation and thus ensure the country’s security and success on the world stage.”

Stage II will see the installation of Smart classrooms in schools in Eilat and the adjacent kibbutz of Eilot, which together form the Greater Toronto Federation’s Partnership 2000 community, and Arava, as well as the northern community of Ramat HaGolan, from as early as March 2011. Later phases will see the installation of more high-tech classrooms in schools located along the border with Egypt, and a further 200 placed in schools throughout the Galilee and the Negev.

“Mr. Schulich sees this project as a ‘game-changer’ in terms of the delivery of education for the vital communities situated on the geographic and economic frontiers of Israel” said Toronto Jewish Federation CEO Ted Sokolsky.. “For him and the Toronto Federation this is about adding a sense of pride and confidence for students and teachers alike, as well as entire communities, using education as the key to a better future for all.”

The launch of a pilot to make Kadoorie Agricultural High School, in the Galilee, and Sha’ar HaNegev, near the Gaza border, into “Smart Schools” is planned for the final phase of Stage II.

The schools will be enabled to use technology to create an individualized and collaborative learning environment with more opportunities for cross-curricular integration and improved content development and delivery. This will involve fitting all the schools’ classrooms with interactive technology, providing all staff and students with laptops, creating a school portal and e-library, and the creation of facilities for inclusive education for disabled students.

“When World ORT launched its pilot program at Kadoorie Agricultural High School in 2008 the then education minister, Professor Yuli Tamir, hailed it as a revolution. Well, that revolution was just a baby step compared to the enormous leap in progress which the Schulich Initiative represents for the Israeli education system,” said Mr Singer.