Study shows Israeli kids well-connected, schools less so

Study shows Israeli kids well-connected, schools less so

Israel lags behind OECD countries in Internet use in the classroom, to the detriment of students, a study shows

A teacher using a touchscreen 'smart board' in a Jerusalem classroom. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
A teacher using a touchscreen 'smart board' in a Jerusalem classroom. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

For a country that prides itself on being one of the most online in the world, Israel is a laggard in the way it uses the Internet in its schools, a study released Wednesday said.

The study of junior high and high school students showed that while many Israeli kids relied on the web — especially Wikipedia — when doing homework and studying for tests, nearly half of high school students do not get any direction at all from teachers about how to use the Internet properly for academic purposes.

“Particularly worrying,” said the report by the communications department of the College of Management Academic Studies (COMAS) in Rishon Lezion, was the fact that more than 62 percent of Jewish high school students aged 15-17 were not taught these skills. In contrast, nearly 80% of students in the Arab sector were getting such training. However, the study showed, the Jewish students were far more likely to use the Internet to do assignments and to study for tests.

The purpose of the study, said Yuval Dror, head of the Communications Department in COMAS, was to determine whether technology was being utilized sufficiently in schools, and if so, whether it helped or hindered students in learning.

In addition, the study examined the relationship, if any, between students and teachers in the online world, and especially in social media, and whether or not there was a place in the Israeli school system for the “flipped classroom” concept, in which students and teachers collaborate online during after-school hours as a replacement for traditional homework assignments.

Technology of some kind is used in over 90% of Israeli classrooms, the study showed. Most classrooms use audiovisual equipment of some sort to screen videos and clips in the classroom, and 67% of schools have Internet sites of their own. Many schools actively use the Internet as well; 37%, for example, encourage students to share documents, submit assignments, and collaborate using online document storage and sharing sites, like Google Docs.

Technology, in other words, is common in Israeli schools. But students complained that it was not being used effectively in class, and that teachers often overlooked its advantages. Overall, more than three quarters of all students said that using technology, including the Internet, helped them learn better. But fewer than half said that they felt teachers used technology effectively in the classroom. In one example, 84% of students said that using video or slide shows in class was a positive use of technology, but 80% said that teachers did not encourage them to use the Internet to prepare or present (including downloading photos and video clips) visual presentations.

Of the students who do get training on how to use the Internet for study purposes, 51% were not taught how to differentiate between legitimate sources of information, and less authoritative sources.

Under Education Ministry guidelines, teachers are banned from having online social media relationships with students. Despite that, 25% of Jewish Israeli students have a teacher on their list of Facebook friends, while among Arab students, 24% have three or more teachers among their friends. Although 70% of all students said they were not interested in counting teachers among their Facebook friends, 40% said that they believed the relationship between students and teachers would be enhanced if there were more such relationships.

Overall, said Dror, the Israeli school system recognized the importance of technology in education, and tried to implement its use where possible. But despite the goodwill, he said, “we have for years had trouble implementing technology in schools. OECD statistics for 2009 show that Israel is fourth from last among OECD countries in the number of schools connected to the Internet, and last in terms of schools that give students the opportunity to use the Internet in classrooms. This survey catalogs the missed opportunities in actuating the technological potential in Israel’s schools.”

The poll was conducted on behalf of COMAS by top pollsters and was funded by Google Israel. A representative sample of some 600 students answered a wide range of questions about the role of technology, online information services, and social media in their education.

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