“We have brought experts from Israel, America and other countries to bring their knowledge of modern methods to teachers throughout the Jewish world, with spectacular results,” Dr de Gunzburg said. “It is truly gratifying to hear how well these programmes are received and how much they are contributing to the development of Jewish and Hebrew education within our constituency.”
The latest seminar was held over three days at CIM-ORT, formerly the Colegio Israelita de Mexico, which last year became the first school in Mexico to affiliate with ORT.
Daniel Tysman, the Head of World ORT's Education Department, said: "It was excellent. The presenters were first class and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The teachers enjoyed being in an Israeli-style training environment – all speaking and collaborating in Hebrew. It was a unique experience for them because most of them hadn't received formal training in the teaching of Ivrit before."
World ORT brought in two top trainers from Israel: Dr Orly Albeck and Yael Asif. Dr Albeck, of the MOFET Institute – a non-profit foundation that provides a forum for the exchange of information and ideas, research, and advanced study in teacher education – has addressed previous de Gunzburg Seminars.
"Orly challenged the teachers on their knowledge of advanced Hebrew linguistics and grammar as well as their motivation for teaching the language and then built up their confidence by having them learn from the students' point of view," Mr Tysman said. "It was a method that provided the teachers with very useful insights into the learning process."
It was the first de Gunzburg Seminar for Ms Asif, Project Manager in the field of language education in the Centre for Educational Technology (CET) in Tel Aviv. An NGO dedicated to the advancement of education throughout the Jewish world, CET has established a reputation as a leader of next generation learning through developing educational content and introducing advanced technologies.
"My goal was to guide the teachers in developing study units that apply the principles of teaching Hebrew in conjunction with the use of advanced technologies," she said. "The Seminar programme was aimed at achieving our goals – and that in itself was fantastic! The physical environment also helped us achieve those goals: Hebrew computers for each teacher, smart boards, and a technical team that was available throughout the whole of the three days."
She said that Hebrew teachers in the Diaspora faced the common challenge of teaching a language in a vacuum.
"The children don't hear Hebrew in the same that they hear, for example, English; it is a major challenge to encourage students to speak Hebrew," Ms Asif said.
"In Mexico, most of the existing teaching materials do not meet expectations, and so the teachers have to rely solely on developing their own materials. It’s difficult because of the investment of time and energy required, the need to find texts that are appropriate both in terms of content and in terms of level of language complexity, and because of the lack of cooperation between Hebrew teachers from different schools."
Ms Asif, who has extensive experience in developing teaching materials in Hebrew as a second language and interactive sites for students who speak Hebrew as a second language, was impressed by the creativity and willingness of the Mexican teachers to engage with the digital text books to which they were being introduced. She gave Seminar participants a month's free access to the on-line teaching material.
Mr Tysman said that Hebrew was a third language in Mexico's Jewish schools, coming after Spanish and English. Despite that, he said the level of Hebrew among staff and students was impressive.
"Through the de Gunzburg Seminar, we wanted to give teachers the tools to make it more engaging," he said.
But the Seminar provided more than that. As one participant said, it "reduced the sense of isolation felt by Hebrew teachers who feel that our subject has a low priority for receiving professional development training. We now feel appreciated."