Education isn't a game

The Russian style of education is attracting increasing numbers of native Israelis.

cubic game blue 88 (photo credit: )
cubic game blue 88
(photo credit: )
It's already well past 5 p.m., but classes at Ort Givat Ram aren't even close to finishing. Nearly 700 children, aged five to 15, are studying. Quietly. Diligently. No, this is not the implementation of the Dovrat Commission's conclusions. This is the Mofet evening school where three times a week, from 4 p.m. on, children study math, English, biology, music, drama, chemistry and Russian. The average tuition is close to NIS 400 a month per child. Mofet was founded in 1992 by a group of immigrant teachers from the former Soviet Union. Most of them had taught in elite schools and gained wide experience in nurturing talent and educating award-winning pupils. In Israel, they established a non-profit organization and jumped into the cold waters of the local educational system. The first school they took over was the Shevah school in south Tel Aviv, once considered one of the city's lowest-level schools and today seen as one of the best schools in Israel. Within a few years, they had developed into a chain of schools, known as the Shevah-Mofet system. An evening Mofet chain was also developed. The two chains split in the mid-1990s, apparently over the issue of admitting native-born Israeli pupils. Today the Mofet afternoon chain maintains 22 schools with more than 2,000 children. They also offer special auxiliary classes in the regular schools, such as the well-regarded Boyer School in Jerusalem, where Mofet has been invited to tutor sixth- and seventh-grade pupils in math and English. At Mofet, pupils can choose between a "Hebrew" class and a "Russian" class. Of the 700 pupils in Jerusalem this year, only 30 are enrolled in "Russian" classes, and an increasing number of the children and their parents are Israeli-born. Marina Gershgorn sends Dani, her eight-year-old son, to the Mofet program. "Once Mofet had a reputation as 'Russian evening school' where immigrants send their kids if they want to preserve their Russian. But not any more," she says. "Many of my son's friends in Mofet are Israelis. I enrolled my son there because I believe that he is capable of doing more than he does at school, and his learning abilities should be stimulated and developed. He's only been there for two weeks, but we felt the difference immediately it was much easier for him at his daily school, at math, for example, and although he gets tired he also enjoys it, especially biology and drama class." Elena Kotlyarsky, mother of nine-year-old Uri, also says that even after this short period she feels "a difference." "In Mofet there is a systematization of education. Unfortunately Israeli education lacks it. My oldest son also attended Mofet. As for Uri, last year we sent him to the Ofek school for gifted kids, and although he enjoyed the studies, we didn't see much results. As for Mofet, well, it's not easy. For example he tells us that in English classes the teacher only speaks in English. But there are definitely more results." Many of the parents acknowledge that the children, some of whom attend afternoon classes two and three times a week, do complain about being tired. But they keep bringing them anyway. "I don't think much of the Israeli school system," said Tanya, mother of an eight-year-old daughter, who preferred not to give her full name. "The Israeli teachers are very nice, and they seem to like the children. But the children are undisciplined and the school is noisy. They spend too much time coloring or talking about social things, and not enough time studying." Dr. Marina Niznik, an education expert at Tel Aviv University, observes that the Mofet style of education is more in tune with the Russian idea of what education should be like. "The Russian aliya has brought its own standards to Israel," she says. "We believe that a kid should go to school not only for the sake of enjoying himself, but primarily to gain knowledge. When we were kids, back then in the FSU, our parents didn't ask us if we were tired or we wanted to play instead of studying. The idea was that the child has to make an effort so that he could become someone when he grows older." She believes that the generation that was educated in the FSU in the 1980s has proven that the educational system works. "Immigrants from Russia who are in their thirties today are doing quite well all over the planet, so the creation of Mofet schools is definitely a positive step. It solves the problem of children's free time after school, it boosts kids' desire to study and excel in their studies and it demands more self-discipline from them." Svetlana Stoin, principal of Jerusalem Mofet, believes that her school is a reaction to the Israeli education system and a solution to many of its faults. "In Mofet we believe in excellence. We hire the best teachers with high academic standards and we also require the kids to excel. The fact that almost 93 percent of the kids stay with us attests to our success. "Just the other day," she continues, "one of the mothers a Sabra, by the way asked me why there is no Mofet day school, since it would solve all the problems with fatigue and long hours." Opening a day school is a sore point and a long-time dream for Stoin, who has been trying to establish such a school for more than three years. "We would love to open a day school, the only problem is the location. Jerusalem is expensive and the rent would simply kill us. The municipality, although sympathetic to our efforts, told us that there is simply no way that we could get a site, although every religious school that opens up in this town gets one. "We are desperately looking for a sponsor, because that's the only solution for us. We cannot raise the fee, since the majority of the families belong to the middle and lower-middle class, and even NIS 380 a month, especially if you have to pay for more than one child, is a lot for some parents." The spokesman for the municipality responded to In Jerusalem's queries with the follow written statement: "The opening of an educational institution is a matter of standard procedures and rules of the Education Ministry and the local authorities. The Jerusalem Municipality is not aware of any request from the administration of Mofet regarding opening of a day school. If and when such a request will follow, it will be treated and examined appropriately." But the Dovrat Commission's report does not bode well for the establishment of a day school. With only a few exceptions, the report recommends that the Education Ministry refrain from funding any schools that use entrance exams to select pupils, as the Mofet school does, as well as any "special" schools that claim to offer their pupils a "special emphasis" or ideology, such as Mofet's focus on math and physics. This year, admission to the Jerusalem Mofet school increased by almost 18%. Registration closed in July, and classes are full. Good education is in demand today, says Liat, Orly's mother and a native Israeli, who considers her daughter lucky to be in Mofet. "There is discipline here, they do their homework, there are high demands I just love it, too bad they couldn't open a day school." Gershgorn reports that after being used to working hard in Mofet and behaving well, it's "somewhat ridiculous" that during the day her son Dani must go back to his regular school, where, even though he is in third grade, he has not been given any homework since the school year began. According to Dr. Niznik, the only real problem with Mofet is that it actually becomes more like a second school to those who attend it, rather than "merely" a supplementary afternoon program. But the advantages are much more significant then the disadvantages, she concludes, "It helps the good pupils to get even better, and the weak ones to achieve the normal level," she contends. The school year has just begun, but in Jerusalem Mofet they are already planning for next year. "We hope that in 2006 we will be more successful in opening our first day school in town. The waiting list for that school is already full," says Stoin and adds "If you want your kid to be enrolled in Mofet, you'd better do it soon this year we will close the registration by May."