No revolution today

It seems that the great project is shrinking into a less impressive size and its continuation might be at stake.

Jerusale mayor Nir Barkat announces he has registered to the Likud party in video message (photo credit: screenshot)
Jerusale mayor Nir Barkat announces he has registered to the Likud party in video message
(photo credit: screenshot)
Revolutions, the real revolutions, those that completely change a long-existing reality, do not occur in one day, not even in a year or two. In the case of the tablet revolution in the education system in Jerusalem – it seems that it won’t even live long enough to merit the title (of revolution).
Two years or so after the dramatic announcement by the mayor and the holder of the Education portfolio in the city, Nir Barkat, that Jerusalem was stepping inside a technological revolution in terms of computerizing teaching, it seems that the great project is shrinking into a less impressive size and its continuation might be at stake.
Coming from the hi-tech world, it was only natural that at some point Barkat would want to introduce the education system to that computerized world. It took him a few years to reach that point, but it was, in one way or another, always in the air since he became mayor in 2008.
A little before the 2013 election that kept him for another five years’ tenure at Safra Square, he began to prepare the ground for his favorite project – replacing all traditional educational devices and means such as boards, books and the like, with computers.
It began with computers for all the teachers – who gradually obtained laptops and went through specially adapted training. And then came the time for the pupils, primarily in junior high schools, to move from obsolete books and notebooks to tablets in which all the learning material was installed.
Everything seemed to go on according to plan – the pilot in eight schools for the first year produced encouraging results and the project went on for a second, adding six more schools, and new classes in the schools already in the project. Everything indicated that the Holy City was ready to slip easily into the 21st century and its hi-tech and gadget style.
In fact, only almost everything, since the first gray cloud of precariousness regarding this brave new world appeared at the end of last year, with the school directors’ decision, backed by its parents’ association, to leave the program at this early stage. But still, tablets and teachers doing their best to reach the literacy of their pupils in the tablets’ use went on.
Last week, an official – but very shy – announcement delivered the news that the project is stopping. Or if you prefer, it is not developing further. The schools that adopted the project – except for René Cassin High School that dropped by the end of the first year – will continue, but no new schools will join in the next school year.
So far, the reasons behind this surprising decision are not really clear, but a few explanations from the city’s parents’ association remove – partly – the curtain and reveal a combination of typical Israeli disorder, lack of serious preparation and, perhaps, as suggested by a source at the Education Administration, a drop of interest in the whole topic from its initiator.
According to Avi Fatal, from the parents’ association, the cost of the tablets is too high, the survey on the eventual risks of harmful radiation (from some 35-40 tablets in one classroom) wasn’t done properly (for lack of adapted equipment for monitoring) and on top of all these, “nobody could tell us what are the precise advantages obtained in the matriculation [exam] results by using the tablets, compared to schools where the tablet project hasn’t yet been introduced.”
So it seems the enthusiasm for computerized and ultra-modern equipment that would propel Jerusalem’s junior high students to the highest levels was a bit premature. And that’s beside the problem of the pace at which some irreversible actions were done – like installing all the textbooks on those tablets, leaving those who took the project with no alternative than to continue till the end of the school year.
As for the cost: Paz Cohen, president of the parents’ association, says that NIS 700 for each year is a very high cost, especially for tablets “in which the small size of its screen is obviously harming our children’s eyes.”
The source at the Education Administration added that “as it took a mayor totally devoted to the project to start it, it needs a mayor to continue the job on the highest level even now,” hinting at the fact that Barkat is, besides the affairs of Jerusalem, busy with his own project to reach the national political ground.