If we took a surgeon from 100 years ago and placed them in an operating room today, it would be unlikely they would be able to do their job.

Take a teacher from 100 years ago, and place them in most school environments, and they would be able to manage more or less.

A global report on the impact of technology on learning was released this week by Google for Education. The results were indicative of the experience I see daily, as CEO of Jewish Interactive (Ji), and aligns with feedback we receive from our users around the world.

To have solid quantitative data in edtech is something that has been missing until now, and without it investors and philanthropists were somewhat hesitant to commit fully in supporting this work. That combined with the double edged sword that is technology, often leave people confused on how to approach this area.

Below, I have paraphrased and commented on core aspects highlighted from this valuable report.

“There have been endless media headlines covering Silicon Valley parents’ decisions to raise their kids without tech and send them to tech-free schools, sparking discussions around the role of technology in education. At the same time, children are online at a younger age than ever before – people under 18 account for an estimated one in three Internet users globally.  In the US, more than 39% of young people get a social media account by the time they’re 12 years old, as do over 46% of those in the UK. These conditions have created a desire to help students develop a healthy, responsible relationship with technology – something that often falls under the jurisdiction of the education system.” 

“The average amount of time Americans under 8 years old spent with mobile devices each day TRIPLED between 2013 and 2017”.

These statistics are too staggering for the Jewish community to not respond. Does investment in digital Jewish Education tools and resources reflect this statistic? Are we happy with our children spending their online time elsewhere and confining their Jewish learning to experiential and analogue? Can our children learn effective use of technology, through using it to enhance their Jewish learning?

We are beginning to realize that creativity, empathy, learning virtues and the arts are becoming equally or even more important than math and English. Our kids need to understand themselves and their peers in order to connect to others and the wider world. As connectivity is so key to the future, learning how to accept differences and work together is crucial. Having Jewish educational online resources that are crowdsourced from around the world, embodies this concept. Teaching morals and ethics, and views about the world through engaging media is vital for the next generation. Allowing people to question or to see other viewpoints, in a colorful, engaging way is crucial for breaking down prejudice and stimulating discussion, and is an inherent Jewish value. 

Globally, 92% of future jobs will need digital skills and 45% of jobs will require workers who can configure and work confidently with digital systems and technology. The OECD has also highlighted that students entering schools in 2018 will face future challenges that can’t even be predicted today. This narrative is affecting attitudes towards education – STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Math) education is becoming increasingly vital in the classroom to prepare students for the tech challenges of the future. Access to digital skills is no longer perceived as a plus; it is now seen as a right for every student. 

In fact, 79% more jobs related to STEM have emerged since 1990 and this is expected to grow a further 13% by 2027. (Pew Research Center, 2018)

To give students the best start possible, schools are looking to help them develop a toolkit of technical skills – such as problem-solving, coding and a good understanding of STEM subjects. The idea is that these will prepare them for future technologies and challenges. Responding to this initiative, Governments are allocating millions to support early learning and school STEM initiatives. By 2020, experts forecast that 1.4 million computer science jobs will be available in the US, but only 400,000 computer science graduates are expected to fill them and that 92% of future jobs globally will need digital skills. (ZDNet, 2018)

Jewish Day schools and local communities are recognizing this, establishing J-STEM labs and looking at combining the beauty of the Torah with STEM learning. Indeed one of the schools we work with closely says “Jewish learning is STEM learning” and base their entire STEM curriculum on Judaism. This is providing a much needed Unique Selling Proposition for our schools who are concerned about decreasing enrollment and access to funding. It is attracting parents who want the best of these worlds and are willing to invest in this to secure their children’s future.

Use of Ai and automated content is becoming more widely used in schools, and although this cannot replicate a human teacher in every field, for teaching skills and knowledge based tasks where children often just have to learn content, automation can be highly effective. At a time when a billion children around the globe need educating with extreme teacher shortages, we need to be thinking out of the box.

It’s no secret that many supplementary schools are struggling with this problem, often choosing to forego skill based learning (like reading Hebrew) and instead focus on experiential learning to keep enrollment up.

As a result the environment is fun and engaging, but many students leave without the ability to read or speak Hebrew, and without the basic Jewish fundamental knowledge that underpins these experiences. Specialized platforms that provide engaging, personalized content can help solve this problem, and dramatically increase time spent on Jewish learning beyond the classroom parameters.

Since 49% of couple households feature two parents working full-time, technology that facilitates conversation between parents and teachers is becoming increasingly valuable. In fact, in the US, 76% of teachers and administrators say that technology is important in engaging parents with their child’s school performance, thus engaging parents who may be unsure of Hebrew or Jewish skills in a safe and non threatening way. In fact Ji is often contacted by parents who say they use our resources to learn themselves once their kids are in bed.

Time is something we are all struggling with. But no one more so than teachers. From grading to preparing resources, teachers invest a great deal of time and energy in administrative tasks. Globally, teachers spend an average of three hours a day on work-related tasks, including marking and lesson planning. In comparison, they spend five hours per day teaching lessons. And only 34% of teachers worldwide say they currently have a good work-life balance. In the UK, 67% of teachers report being stressed at work, while in the US, 61% of teachers say they are always or often stressed.  Freeing up time can have a big impact on teacher engagement and motivation. And technology can be harnessed as a tool to achieve this. Whether it’s streamlining admin tasks or helping with grading, 84% of  teachers say that technology saves educators time. A staggering 88% of teachers add that educational technology enables pedagogical innovation and improves educational quality.

“Lesson planning or marking are tasks that take a disproportionate amount of time. This is where I think tech can be leveraged to free up time and allow teachers to do what they’re meant to be doing, which is teaching and interacting with students.” Vikas Pota, Group CEO of Tmrw Digital and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Varkey Foundation 

So shouldn’t every teacher be integrating technology to save themselves time and educate more effectively?

It’s not that simple.

Ironically, just 10% of K–12 teachers in the US feel secure in their abilities to incorporate ‘higher-level’ technology into their classroom. But 79% express the need for training regimens to become familiar with these tools.

“Technology can be a powerful tool for transforming learning…However, to be transformative, educators need to have the knowledge and skills to take full advantage of technology-rich learning environments.” (2017 US National Education Technology Plan, p. 3-5)

Some of our partners have recognized this and are offering training in this area, but again as the shockingly low statistic above shows, it is nowhere near enough.

People are increasingly recognizing how tech can be used in the classroom to create exciting, engaging experiences. For example, research on Augmented Reality (AR) in the classroom has confirmed that AR as an aid in educational settings improves learning performance and encourages learning motivation. 82% of teachers think that using technology in the classroom better prepares students for future careers. However building quality Jewish digital resources and have the R&D capacity to experiment utilizing Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality effectively, requires significant investment. It’s time to ask how the Jewish world will respond to this clear need. 

Google’s report is completely reflective of my experience running a global edtech organization with over 500,000 users. Unfortunately, it comes at a time when leading digital Jewish educational organizations are struggling to survive or have closed down. 

In my opinion, current philanthropic funding models should be updated to meet the unique needs of this field. Perhaps we should consider changing the term  “investment opportunities” to “investment necessities”. Investing in Jewish education has always been a priority for the Jewish world and it has ensured Jewish continuity. 

Now, at a time when young Jews are disaffected and unengaged, where many are not interested in continuing the chain of tradition, it is an absolute necessity to make significant investments into future proofing the Jewish and Hebrew Educational experiences of our youth.

Perhaps the philanthropic world could consider replicating the VC industry in the tech domain – with large sources of capital needed at the beginning of a project to build, gradually decreasing once sustainability targets are met (average 5-7 years for the average tech start-up). The traditional model of limiting funds at the start of a relationship and gradually increasing based on impact just doesn’t work in the technology arena. 

Based on this recent data, perhaps now is the time to have conversations on redesigning philanthropic models that encourage entrepreneurship, creativity and inspiring individuals to take risks, so that once again, we can take our place as world leaders in the future of education. 

Article by Author/s
Chana Kanzen
Chana Kanzen Is CEO of Jewish Interactive, and was a founding member of the organisation in 2012. She regularly lectures, writes and leads innovation in education and has partnered with major partners including Google, Apple, Microsoft, Israel Ministry of Diaspora affairs.

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