Studying pedagogy

Education experts from Singapore visit Israel to study the school system here.

Robert Singer, CEO World ORT (photo credit: Golan Yossifon)
Robert Singer, CEO World ORT
(photo credit: Golan Yossifon)
The island nation of Singapore is known as an educational juggernaut, producing some of the highest ranking students in the world, particularly in mathematics and science.
However, that fact didn’t deter a delegation of official educational assessment experts from exploring other advancements abroad.
Hence at the end of March, the group, consisting of four female educators, traveled nearly 8,000 km for a three-day visit to Israel to learn about the implementation of some of the most advanced educational technologies in the world, currently being utilized in Israeli schools, specifically (and perhaps surprisingly to some) in the periphery.
The delegation members were guests of Kadima Mada, the Israeli branch of the World ORT Organization. World ORT is the largest Jewish education and vocational NGO in the world, benefiting more than three million Jews and non-Jews in over 100 counties since its founding in 1880.
In Israel, Kadima Mada has a presence in 120 schools in the periphery, in the Negev and the Galilee, providing institutions with educational tools and advanced teaching technologies reaching nearly 200,000 students.
The Singapore group, in affiliation with that country’s Education Ministry, was here specifically to witness the demonstration of a new educational innovation called “E-Scape,” which thanks to funding from Kadima Mada is now being utilized in classrooms in three Israeli high schools, in Nesher and Kiryat Ata in the north, and Sha’ar Hanegev in the south.
The Jerusalem Post caught up with the delegation as it was exploring the technology’s uses, as showcased by a group of ninth-graders and faculty at the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional High School, just outside Sderot.
According to Dr. Osnat Dagan, Kadima Mada’s pedagogical director, who accompanied the group on its tour, E-Scape is a new, unique tool which allows teachers and students to communicate on assignments in real time.
“Most importantly,” she says, “teachers not only have the ability to see a student’s finished product, but can delve into the student’s thought process along the way since the teacher has access to the progress of the assignment, seeing all of the steps taken by the student throughout its duration. This allows the teachers to ask questions or to assist at any point, increasing the opportunities for learning.”
TZILA LEVY, the assistant principal at the high school, says that in addition to the EScape technology, her school has access to other new technologies including “smart classrooms” consisting of mobile computers for student use, computer “smart boards” (in place of chalk-boards) for teachers, and advanced lab equipment.
Levy is grateful to Kadima Mada, noting that the organization “stepped in during the worst part of the community’s history several years ago when 40 to 50 Kassam rockets were falling in the area daily,” providing not only equipment, but “true friendship.”
She says that while the student population dwindled to 800, down from 1,100, as families moved out of the area as a result of the security situation, now that terrorists have started focusing their attacks on communities further away “we have nearly 1,200 students and there is a waiting list to get in.” Levy also attributes the surge “to the many opportunities the school offers in terms of technology, which the students love to utilize.”
Zohar Nir-Levy, who works at the school and is in charge of the innovation and integration of the technology into the classrooms, says that in addition to the in-class tools at her disposal, another key program within the school supported by Kadima Mada is its “distance learning” computer-based program.
This software allows teachers to provide lessons, homework and support to students who are not able to attend due to the security situation.
She says this technology was used as recently as several weeks ago, during the latest rocket barrage from Gaza. While class was still in session, not all students were willing to take a chance and leave their homes.
As Levy, along with the students, is busy demonstrating E-Scape to the guests from abroad, Robert Singer, who has served as World ORT’s director general and CEO, based in the organization’s London headquarters for the past 12 years, enters the classroom to welcome the group.
According to Singer, who is Israeli-born, the fact that such a high ranking delegation from Singapore traveled all the way to Israel to learn about innovation “speaks for itself.” He adds that “since this technology was introduced in the periphery and not in the center of the country, it shows that our organization is truly interested in advancements on a grassroots level.”
While visiting Sha’ar Hanegev, Singer also tours the school’s soon-to-be-opened reinforced (against rockets) modern campus, featuring a science and technology center partially funded by Kadima Mada. He also expresses his gratitude toward Silvan Shalom, minister for the development of the Negev and Galilee, along with Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, and the local ICA Charitable Foundation for their involvement and support in making the project a reality.
Throughout the demonstration the delegation from Singapore is busy observing and taking thorough notes. Thanks to the universal language of English all parties are able to communicate effectively. Eventually the guests sit down in the computer chairs and test out the “E-Scape” program for themselves.
One of the faculty members in attendance whispers to a colleague in Hebrew that she is confident the group is impressed and will no doubt decide to implement the technology in their schools back home.