A smart classroom in Israel that uses technology and expertise provided by ORT. (photo from ORT Vancouver)
ORT is an organization that doesn’t seem to register a great deal of recognition in Vancouver. It is, however, one of the largest and perhaps the oldest international Jewish nongovernmental organizations. Established more than 130 years ago in Russia (ORT is an acronym for the Russian words that translate as the Society for Trades and Agricultural Labor), ORT sought to train Jews in modern trades and agricultural practices. It established schools for technical training all over the world and currently provides technology-focused training in 100 countries. But who knew?
Vancouver ORT would like to everyone to know. In order to raise awareness of the work ORT does around the world and in Israel, Vancouver is hosting a pilot project new not only to Canada, but a first internationally. “ORT Canada has always sent support to Israel. Now ORT Israel is supporting ORT Vancouver,” said Naomi Pulvers, one of Vancouver’s longest- serving ORT volunteers.
With its emphasis on technological education, Pulvers explained, ORT Israel has developed a successful program in schools around Israel’s physical and socio-economic periphery, bringing cutting-edge educational technology into the classroom. Started in 2010 in the Galilee, the program expanded to the Negev when Israel’s Ministry of Education recognized the benefits of this interactive way of teaching. Currently, 420 classrooms around Israel are using ORT’s program.
This technology will soon be implemented in three local Jewish schools.
“We have chosen King David High School, Richmond Jewish Day School and Vancouver Talmud Torah as the recipients of a ‘smart classroom,’” Pulvers noted. “We will have to raise $25,000-$35,000 locally for each classroom.” Equipment provided includes projectors, Smart Boards, remote software, laptops, handheld slates, wireless routers and speakers. In addition, some classrooms may need to be hardwired for the technology to run. Eventually, students will benefit by having the opportunity to interact with learning in ways they not have been able to before.
The equipment provided is just one part of the program, however. The crucial element to implementing any system effectively is in understanding how to use it properly. Instruction and technical support are the other ingredients ORT provides to make this program effective.
“For the third week of May,” Pulvers explained, “two specialists from Israel, named Nechama Kenig and Udi Gibory, are coming with over 1,000 hours of experience with these smart classrooms. They will assemble what is already in the schools here and survey what is still needed. They will also give teachers more instruction, as well as the IT people from the schools.”
While here, Kenig and Gibory will also help ORT publicize its program by presenting two educational evenings intended to raise investments from local donors for what ORT sees as the future of education. These meetings, on May 20 and 21, will mark a new era in engagement and fundraising in Vancouver, targeting local Jewish education with an eye to the future.
Pulvers explained that ORT has always focused on the end goal of employment. “What kinds of jobs will be available in the future? We need technology to keep things going. In medicine, industry … they all need technology, and this is what ORT does. We help kids branch out into all aspects of technology,” through the use of smart classrooms. Evidence from the use of these technologies in Israel suggests that they boost the confidence and morale of students who have been reluctant learners or participants. Students are able to collaborate in the lesson, and with each other and the teacher, in new ways.
There is one more long-term goal, according to Pulvers. ORT has a respected international reputation and seeks to build bridges with local, non-Jewish organizations, as well. Pulvers explained, “We’ll start with Jewish schools and hopefully become a focal point of education. Eventually, looking down the road, we’d like to collaborate with the Vancouver School Board and meet with the minister of education.”
For more information or to attend the May 20-21 meetings, contact the director of ORT Vancouver, Mary Tobin, at 604-276-9282 or [email protected].
Michelle Dodek is a writer, mother and community volunteer who has been involved with many Jewish organizations in Vancouver.