Hebrew University program helps ex-Colombian rebels return to real life

Years of combat and primitive jungle living have prevented these ex-guerrilla fighters from studying or living in any sort of a normal framework.

Hebrew University 88 (photo credit: )
Hebrew University 88
(photo credit: )
Nestled in the jungles and highlands of northwestern South America, thousands of Colombia's rebel fighters, once embroiled in the continent's longest-running armed conflict, are laying down their weapons and attempting a return to normal life. But years of combat and primitive jungle living have prevented these ex-guerrilla fighters from studying or living in any sort of a normal framework, leaving them in lack of the basic skills needed to reintegrate into society. In 2006 however, help arrived from an unexpected source. The Kishurim, or "Talents" group, headed by Prof. Baruch Schwartz and Reuma De-Groot, from Jerusalem's Hebrew University School of Education, developed a unique educational technique that was adopted in Colombia specifically to help these one-time combatants turn over a new leaf. "It's a special program," said De-Groot by telephone on Tuesday. "We've seen some amazing results, and I'm very proud of the work we've done," she added. The technique, which is based on computerized interactive dialogue in the classroom, has been in use for the past year-and-a-half in Colombia as part of a project to provide basic educational knowledge such as reading, writing and mathematics to these former guerrilla fighters and to others who want to rejoin society after years of life in rural and often primitive settings. The special method developed by Kishurim, which enables each student to develop his own approach to materials and to present it for discussion before fellow students, was adopted by Prof. Luis Maldunado of the Open University of Colombia in order to design an educational program for the benefit of some 100 former guerrilla rebels. That number has increased to 2000 since its inception, and is still growing. The program in use in Colombia is called Digalo, involving synchronized discussion utilizing the Internet, and has been applied using modules for instruction in subjects such as mathematics, science and Spanish. The Kishurim group, which has been operating at the Hebrew University for the past ten years, specializes in research and development of learning tools involving computer technology. In recent years the group has focused on development what they call "dialogue thinking" in schools in Israel; that is, integrating dialogue, argumentation and critical thinking within a classroom framework. According to Schwartz, "We have found that the presence of modern technological programs that we have developed, which allow for electronic discussions accompanied by graphic displays, creates a dynamic interplay of arguments and improves the quality of the discussion. "These tools cause the student to become involved in the discussion, to think about the issue at hand, and to go into greater depth than would occur in just an open verbal discussion." "These ex-guerrillas, some of whom don't even speak Spanish but their own indigenous Indian dialects, go through the program and directly into the work force," De-Groot said. "The program provides them with the social skills and knowledge to enter society again. The successes have even convinced the government, which has a large interest in the program to begin with, to expand it to other cities and educational institutions throughout Colombia," she said. In that vein, a delegation of 25 teachers from the Open University of Colombia, including those who have already worked on rehabilitation efforts with the ex-guerrillas, arrived in Israel this week to receive advanced training in the Kishurim technique at the Hebrew University. The visiting Colombian educators hope as a result of their stay in Israel to gain greater depth in their use of the method and to examine the possibility of extending its use to additional areas of study and to additional student groups. From the experience gained so far with the Kishurim-developed approach, it has been shown that students acquire perseverance and assertiveness in achieving their goals, as well an increase in self confidence and an ability to grasp complex concepts, according to De-Groot.