Not Just in Crisis, But in Normal Times

Perspective on the immediate future of distance learning from an Israeli education nonprofit leader.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Uri Ben Ari

As of Sunday, March 15, 2020, Israel’s schools are closed due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus. Millions of students sit in their homes. Israel’s Ministry of Education conducts distance learning, both by broadcasting from central studios and through direct contact between teachers and students, via the computer.

The situation that was imposed on Israel’s education system, as well as on education systems in many other countries, demonstrates the enormous importance of providing teachers and kindergarten teachers with computers and professional training. Thanks to the computer, teachers can teach their students at home, and the months when schools are closed are not lost.

A Realization of the Vision

This is hard to say because of the difficult circumstances, but the present situation is a realization of the vision of 21st century teaching and learning. Many people have been talking about it over the years, and here and there experiments were conducted and various applications have been developed. However, such a complete implementation of distance learning has not yet been done. After the coronavirus epidemic will be over, education systems around the world may increasingly embrace distance learning not just in crisis, but also in normal times.

By the way – Israel first witnessed distance learning in communities around the Gaza Strip and the southern region during attacks from Gaza, which disrupted the education system and forced students and teachers to stay at their homes and shelters.

Athena Fund provides Israel’s teachers with a digital toolbox that includes a mobile computer (a laptop or an iPad, according to the various programs), 120 hours of training, a three-year warranty and technical support, continuing education credit, a printer, a carrying case, a projector and a Wi-Fi network for the classroom.

“…it’s a leap to 21st-century teaching and learning, and following the current situation, we will see considerable technological and methodological developments in the field of education.”

So far, the fund has provided mobile computers and training to 25,000 teachers across Israel. Athena Fund works in cooperation with the Professional Advancement Fund of Israel Teachers Union, Bank Massad, donors such as the Ted Arison Family Foundation, the Sylvan Adams Family Foundation, the United Israel Appeal of Canada and other organizations.

More About Digital ToolBoxes

What is behind the distribution of digital toolboxes to teachers?

In many educational systems and in many schools, teaching is still carried out using old-world methods that were prevalent before the computer age. Providing teachers and kindergarten teachers with mobile computers and other components of the digital toolbox leads to a new era in teaching and learning, an era in which the teacher becomes a mentor, finds for his students the best learning material, demonstrates various subjects with innovative multimedia aids, enables students to learn online, and in the future implementing innovative teaching and learning methods of open classrooms “without walls”.

In addition, teachers become digital literate, promoting/raising their status among their students, their surroundings, their community, and the general public. Increasing the status of teachers will encourage them to invest more in their work, to acquire new skills, to implement more innovative methods, and this will turn teaching into a prestigious profession similar to high-tech and medicine.

‘Out of the Strong…’

I think that the present situation will lead to the words of the biblical hero Samson who said: “Out of the strong came forth sweetness” which means something good comes out of something bad, or as the modern proverb says: “Making lemonade out of lemons”. Currently, due to the Coronavirus, the education system is forced to use distance learning, utilizing teachers as mentors and it’s not a drill, it’s for real.

On the other hand, students and their parents learn how to deal with distance learning. Even if there are problems, there is no doubt that it’s a leap to 21st-century teaching and learning, and following the current situation, we will see considerable technological and methodological developments in the field of education.

Athena Fund will do everything it can to provide mobile computers to a maximum number of teachers. Even when the crisis is over, and students return to their classrooms, the computer will be the main tool for teaching ,learning, reporting and communicating and a new generation of education will emerge, blending old-style schools and cyber-age virtual classrooms.

Uri Ben Ari is President and Founder of Athena Fund, a nonprofit established in 2006 to empower teachers in Israel by providing them with tools for self-fulfillment and professional advancement. Named after the Goddess of Wisdom from Greek mythology, it was founded by several prominent business leaders. Its flagship initiative is making possible a laptop computer for every teacher in Israel. More than 25,000 (working with 500,000+ students) have already received a laptop computer and professional training.

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