The two-day World ORT Robert and Eileen Sill National Directors’ Forum was packed with lectures, seminars and field trips that paradoxically left its 35 participants exhausted and energised.
“These two very intensive days have been way beyond what we could have expected,” said ORT Canada Executive Director Emmanuel Kalles. “The lectures given by the people at the Technion were very interesting and stimulating and what we saw during our visits to World ORT-affiliated schools and Kadima Mada projects was really outstanding: for example, how effective the Smart classrooms are that we’ve installed, how enthusiastic both kids and teachers are about them. I want to be able to transmit what I saw; to be able to take these impressions back to donors is very important.”
In keeping with the Forum’s tradition of meeting in places of educational excellence, this year’s was held at the world-renowned Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, a partner in World ORT’s new international engineering and technology scholarship program, the Anieres Elite Academy.
Forum participants were welcomed by Technion President Professor Peretz Lavie and then treated to a series of lectures by leading academics: Beit Berl Teachers’ College Senior Lecturer Dr Yoram Harpaz on “Five Education Principles for the 21st Century”; Head of the Technion’s Pre-Academic Unit, Professor Dan Zilbershtein, on “Promoting Science and Technology among Youth in Israel”; Technion Vice-President for External Relations and Resource Development Professor Boaz Golany on “The Impact of Globalisation on Education”; and Avi Schroeder, Professor of Chemical Engineering at the Technion, spoke on “Nanotechnology as a Model for Scientific Innovation and Business Opportunities”.
“It was very, very enlightening,” said the Rector of ORT Uruguay University, Dr Jorge Grunberg, who gave a presentation of his own on the need to inculcate ethical responsibility in technology students. “It was worth travelling 30 hours just for that! And it will feed back into the quality of my work.”
And what the distinguished speakers had to say about education illustrated the aptness of World ORT’s Kadima Mada programme, said World ORT Chief Programme Officer Vladimir Dribinskiy.
“Their messages matched very much what Kadima Mada is doing in Israel in terms of pushing the frontiers of education, particularly the emphasis we give to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. We are responding directly to what some are saying is a crisis in Israeli education,” Mr Dribinskiy said.
How World ORT is doing that was explained by Kadima Mada Pedagogical Manager Iris Wolf. In her presentation she introduced colleagues to World ORT’s five pedagogical principles: to enrich science, technology and computerised environments in Israeli schools; to introduce cutting edge innovation into classrooms across the country; to empower school communities to “own” and continue World ORT initiatives; and to support socio-economically challenged communities in Israel periphery.
“Our fifth principle is to apply locally our understanding of global trends to which end we want to work more closely with our ORT colleagues internationally. It’s an added value of the technology that we’re using that it can be applied to cooperative projects with schools around the world. And the National Directors’ Forum was the perfect opportunity for everyone to share our vision and goals,” Ms Wolf said.
The national directors visited examples of how that vision was being realised in a series of field trips the following day: a tour of the Alex and Betty Schoenbaum Science, Educational, Cultural and Sports Campus in Kiryat Yam was followed by a look at Kadima Mada’s pilot kindergarten robotics programme in the city.
Forum participants went on to Horfeish High School, which serves a Druze community near the border with Lebanon, to see how World ORT has elevated science and technology education there. Then it was back in the bus to see the YOU-niversity after school science and technology enrichment programme in Nahariya, one of five such centres set up for kids in disadvantaged communities.
“We saw a physics class for 20 to 30 kids,” said ORT Brazil Biotechnology Coordinator Dr Maria Antonia Malajovich. “They were using rockets and robots and so full of smiles; there was a very agreeable ambience. That’s the way to teach science to kids!”
Her husband, ORT Brazil National Director Dr Hugo Malajovich agreed, adding, “Each of us is going home motivated with a lot of new ideas – and also a hunger: I’m jealous of a lot of the things we saw here in Israel both at the Technion and also at some of the schools. It’s been a very positive experience.”
Dr Grunberg also paid tribute to the Kadima Mada team led by National Director Avi Ganon.
“I was very impressed by what I saw of the operations in Israel for the first time,” he said. “Under Avi Ganon it’s taken on a tremendous velocity and we have an outstanding team. I’ve rarely seen such a great team assembled in such a short time, so committed and capable.”
Mr Ganon said the Forum provided what promised to be a fruitful opportunity for the sharing of ideas and experiences.
“The national directors may have heard of what Kadima Mada is doing but now they’ve seen it in action. Face to face meetings deepen mutual appreciation for our respective contributions to ORT’s mission of Educating for Life and strengthen the organisational ties which bind us,” he said.
World ORT Acting Director General and CEO Sonia Gomes de Mesquita noted that this Forum was the first in its 14-year history without the presence of her predecessor Robert Singer.
“The Forum has been getting better each year and its value in terms of driving forward our educational mission, in developing fundraising, and in the cultivation of resources for the benefit of our national directors cannot be overestimated. And that is why we’re planning to expand it into a full three-day event,” she said.