Put iJudaism on the curriculum

By Chana Kanzen, June 9, 2013
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At this moment, my 12-year-old is creating a book on the iPad, while texting friends, Googling on the home PC, logging on to her school's Virtual Learning Platform and skyping her grandfather. While I peer over my laptop, she takes out her homework, and photocopy after photocopy emerges. Finally, she gets out her pen - when was the last time I wrote? My five-year-old refuses to sit through his "Mount Sinai" of worksheets and I resort to bribing him with a tablet app so he will work. I've yet to work out how he manages to find the apps on my iPad without being able to read.

There is a profound gap between what most children are learning in school and the knowledge they will need when they graduate. Twenty-first century skills like collaboration and communication are essential for the jobs of the future. Do we really need rote learning when every answer known to man is on Google?

Why are we not utilising more technology to enhance learning? Kids are savvy, and can find out information for themselves - just ask my son. Teaching them how to ask the questions in order to collate and present that information digitally may be more useful than learning, say, about the establishment of Israel by reading a textbook and taking a test.

With mobile phones populating most secondary schools, we have the most sophisticated forms of technology stored away in lockers - why not use them to tweet opinions during a discussion or scan a QR code for more information? It may be challenging to manage at first, but the alternative is to bury our heads in the sand. It could also do away with photocopying endless worksheets or buying countless text books, recouping costs of the technology hardware, and saving trees.

They can zoom in on Jerusalem to study it

There are the obvious concerns regarding internet safety, and likewise the spread of misinformation on some sites. But just as children are taught to use dangerous equipment in science lessons, they need guidance in web safety and etiquette, with teacher/parent training on how to avoid cyber dangers.

The teacher's role is changing - but can our schools keep up? Technology should be embedded in the classroom, and that includes Jewish studies, for which teachers often struggle with limited time. The "flipped classroom" model can change this - innovative teachers are putting lessons online for students to digest at their own pace, thus releasing precious class time for more in-depth discussion. And by asking them to create a digital resource rather than fill in a worksheet, there is the added bonus of more children actually wanting to do their homework.

Most teachers recognise that education is changing, and there is a real need for high-quality Jewish educational apps and programmes that equal other products. At Jewish Interactive we are beginning to meet this demand, providing Jewish studies teachers with a resource they do not have to edit, mark or stay up late creating, only to be met with disappointment that it is not nearly as good as Moshi Monsters!

Tablet technology is starting to transform Jewish studies, with four-year-olds learning to photograph mitzvot for an interactive reward chart, and teens no longer having to carry 20 text books but using apps to locate key texts in seconds.

Through effective use of technology the brick-and-mortar school building is giving way to a virtual world where we can Skype an Israeli child to practise Ivrit, share an assembly with a school on another continent and zoom in to Jerusalem when learning about holy sites.

King Solomon said: "Educate our youth according to his way". If we "digital immigrants" do not respond to our "digital natives" and share our wonderful heritage in their language, we risk losing a generation.

Chana Kanzen is director of Jewish Interactive UK

Last updated: 10:45am, June 9 2013