War no excuse to miss school, thanks to innovative smart classroom tech

Kids holed up in bomb shelters can attend class long-distance, via a program by World ORT called the Schulich Canada Smart Classroom Initiative

A smart classroom at a school in southern Israel (Photo credit: Courtesy)
A smart classroom at a school in southern Israel (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Students in southern Israel have been told to stay home, but that doesn’t mean kids get don’t get to learn. Thanks to smart classroom technology implemented in the Negev in recent years, many students have been continuing classes at home, and in shelters.

The technology that enables kids in numerous schools throughout the south to continue their studies even while rockets are falling around them was funded and introduced by World ORT, which has set up hundreds of an eventual 1,000 “smart classrooms” in schools in the Negev and Galilee. The project will be completed by 2013 at a total cost of NIS 100 million (nearly $30 million).

Among the components of the project is an innovative distance-learning program for kids in hospitals – and it’s the technology that powers that program that has enabled students in shelters to continue their studies. According to Israeli law, kids who are in the hospital for more than three days are required to “attend” classes, and in most hospitals, students are given workbooks and lessons, and spend time with a tutor, who makes sure they keep up with their schoolwork.

But kids don’t only miss out on their studies when they are in the hospital; they also miss out on the school experience – the interaction in the classroom, relationship with their teachers, and conversations with friends. With the ORT-led initiative, 27 hospitals in Israel now have smart classroom distance learning programs, where some 100,000 kids annually get a laptop and are “plugged in” to what happens in the classroom.

What works in hospitals works in bomb shelters, too – so as hostilities broke out in the south, the organization started distributing laptops to schools for use by children who would not be attending class as usual, said Robert Singer, CEO of World ORT.

The long-distance students “plug in” to a teacher’s remote computerized workstation, connected to an electronic whiteboard in a smart classroom, which allows students and teachers to interact, using computer programs that let students solve problems and communicate with teachers and other students. The students can study on-line with their classmates in other shelters, and with teachers in virtual classrooms – including at the World ORT YOUniversity technology excellence center in Kiryat Gat – all interacting on-line to continue their classwork.

In addition to the distance learning program, said Avi Gonen, CEO of World ORT’s Kadima Mada technology excellence program, students in after-school programs will be able to continue with their programs in protected study centers World ORT is setting up in several locations in the south.

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