A one million pound programme is under way to tackle one of the toughest challenges for Jewish schools — raising standards in modern Hebrew.
The Jewish Curriculum Partnership (JCP) has launched a four-year project to train teachers in the language and create an up-to-date course for secondary school pupils.
Only recently, JC columnist Jonathan Freedland argued that British Jewry was “losing the battle for Hebrew” and that many graduates of Jewish schools “still cannot string a conversational sentence together” in Ivrit.
Alastair Falk, executive director of Partnerships for Jewish Schools, which oversees the JCP, said: “This initiative gives UK Jewish schools, which perform exceptionally in many areas, the opportunity to deliver a world-class programme of Ivrit”.
The plan is to produce a course and suitable materials for 11-14 year-olds for modern Hebrew in mainstream Jewish schools — the first year’s programme should be ready in September 2014.
Samantha Benson, who heads the JCP Ivrit team, said: “There is a huge difference in the quality of resources children see between Ivrit and other languages. We want to change that. We want something that doesn’t look inferior in the eyes of students.”
The material will be available both online and in print and is being created in partnership with the Centre for Educational Technology in Israel.
Ivrit programmes used elsewhere in the diaspora were unsuitable, Mrs Benson explained, both because they were too costly and designed for countries which had more time to give to the language. State-aided schools in the UK “ are bound by the national curriculum and there are only a certain number of hours they can allocate to Ivrit”, she said.
“We are very much focused on providing professional development for Ivrit teachers. A lot are not necessarily qualified or trained, through no fault of their own. It is a similar situation to other diaspora communties where there is a shortage of trained Ivrit teachers.”
Over the past four years, JCP has organised training for Ivrit teachers for primary school and has also produced an online resource for seven-to-11 years old called “Ivritbeclick”.
The Wohl Foundation, which has sponsored the primary school programme, is also contributing the lion’s share of the £1.4 million cost of the secondary course, with help from the UJIA.
Mrs Benson acknowledged that the standard of Ivrit in the UK were not “as good as we feel it can be”. But she hoped the planned improvements would give students “the confidence to try out the language” when they visit Israel.