Sharing knowledge at World ORT

“We are like one big family,” said World ORT education project manager Natasha Shaw.

August 16, 2019 12:23
Sharing knowledge at World ORT

MARKING INTERNATIONAL ORT Day in South Africa.. (photo credit: WORLD ORT)

If knowledge is power, as the popular saying goes, then sharing one’s knowledge and resources should be even more powerful. By that account World ORT, the renowned global education network driven by Jewish values, has given its students and educators a substantial boost.

By sharing the organization’s know-how and information across its vast network, World ORT has increased productivity, provided once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, and encouraged a worldwide sense of belonging.

“We are like one big family,” said World ORT education project manager Natasha Shaw. “Because ORT is such an established organization, there is a tremendous amount of knowledge and there are many connections. Many people know each other quite well and know who has expertise in specific areas. As a result, there is a lot of sharing between countries.”

Shaw pointed to three areas of collaboration across the World ORT network that encourage unity and productivity: summer schools and teacher training, virtual connections, and awards and competitions.

STUDENTS FROM around the world at this year’s Digital Skills Academy in Bulgaria visiting BTV. (Credit: WORLD ORT)

“Summer schools and teacher training are face-to-face opportunities for international students and teachers to come together with their peers and learn from each other,” she explained. World ORT holds three international summer schools for students and two teacher training seminars each year around the globe.

A teacher seminar held in London in June included educators from a dozen countries and focused on “makerism” – a concept in which people with shared interests, especially in computing or technology, gather to work on projects while exchanging ideas and knowledge. In February, the organization held a regional ecology summer school for students from the Latin American region in Panama’s rain forest. That gave students the opportunity to see a side of ecology and the environment they might not be able to explore in the confines of a school building.

“It is these types of extraordinary experiences that make World ORT appealing to Jewish families,” said Shaw. “Students get to do things that they might not otherwise be able to do – to actually go into the rain forest, investigate the wildlife and ecosystem, and focus on environmental conservation – a pressing issue for young people today.” Students traveled from as far as Spain to take part.

World ORT’s network reaches 300,000 people in more than 30 countries, leading to greater understanding and empowerment among its thousands of teachers and students.

World ORT director general and CEO Avi Ganon explained that it is this scope which makes the organization unique, and increases its ability to make a difference.

“World ORT’s strength lies in its network. We are working with dozens of countries, sharing assets and knowledge globally. What we can provide for students through online formats linking them around the world – and also for teachers with the programs and seminars we run – represents the best way to learn today: by sharing information and developing knowledge.”
Boitumelo Moremedi, a mathematics, physical sciences and geography teacher in Johannesburg, South Africa, is one of those who has benefited from World ORT’s geographic reach.

A TEACHER training seminar in London. (Credit: WORLD ORT)

“ORT South Africa has given me confidence, guidance and most importantly tremendous help as they offered classroom-based support,” he said.

World ORT’s teaching methods are learner-centered rather than based on a teacher-centered method of presentation, he explained. Moremedi has had extensive experience with the organization’s programs for educators and students. Last year he was a winner of the World ORT Wand Polak award for excellent educators. These experiences have helped him achieve greater success in teaching math in South Africa, where proficiency in the subject is generally low.

“I have grown in so many ways, personally and professionally,” he said. “I have gained a lot of experiences and better methods of teaching mathematics in a way that allows my students to explore concepts.”

LIORA ZYMAN, an academic advisor at the 850-student Colegio Israelita de México ORT (CIM-ORT) in Mexico City, believes the training World ORT provides for its teachers and staff enables them to solve problems and develop their abilities.

“When you are able to meet different professionals dealing with the same problems and dilemmas, it brings people together. We find similar areas of interest to help answer each other by listening to the experiences of other people in other kinds of schools, and also through the expertise World ORT gives us.”

INTERNATIONAL ORT Day activities take pride of place in the former Soviet Union. (Credit: WORLD ORT)

Zyman says ORT Mexico’s collaboration with ORT Argentina illustrates how productivity can increase when knowledge is shared. “We visited the ORT Argentina schools in Buenos Aires and we learned how they had become one of the leading schools in the country. We then invited Argentinian teachers to come to our schools and train our teachers, and they gave us a wider vision as to how technology can be taught and also what our concept of technology is.

“To have a network of schools around the world – to find similarities between schools, to learn how they have answers to challenges and have resolved problems, gives us a lot of strength,” Zyman said. “You can pick up the phone and ask somebody else how they resolved something or dealt with a situation or a new challenge. This is very reinforcing for schools and we are very grateful for the support of World ORT.”

Shaw explained that each year, International World ORT Day – which this year coincided with the date of the founding of the organization in St Petersburg, Russia, in April 1880 – is a day for the organization’s schools to connect.

“We have a variety of activities to link schools, including a global competition and a quiz. Each branch researches World ORT’s history in their own country and creates a project to represent it.”

The most popular activity, said Shaw, is a global quiz, in which teams of students compete against each other online. When youngsters in one country find that there are students in other countries who are learning, studying and taking part in the same activities, she noted, they feel more connected to each other. This spirit of sharing is also expressed in the variety of competitions that World ORT operates among its student network. Pupils work on projects and compete with others on the international stage, learning from each other as they go.

Of course, World ORT schools also work hard to share Jewish identity, knowledge and values. “It’s a Jewish organization driven by Jewish values,” Shaw said. “At different points during the year we have webinars to celebrate festivals in which each school presents its local customs. During Hanukkah, we give the schools a task to design their own dreidel which represents their school, their country and Jewish life in their school. They might use 3D printers or art materials or mixed media. Then, during the webinar, they talk about their specific customs.”

Shaw adds that as part of World ORTs “Let’s celebrate” webinars, students observe Jewish festivals and their commonalities but also learn about differences in various Jewish practices.

Combining these methods and strategies throughout its global network means World ORT can reach across borders and countries to create a sense of belonging among its students and teachers – and ultimately empower people through greater knowledge and understanding.

This article was written in cooperation with World ORT.

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