Family & Education

Post-Covid: the questions Jewish education must confront

Leading educators have embarked on a six-month review to make recommendations for the future


Chanukah literally means “dedication”, rooted in the Hebrew for education, chinuch. This is, of course, no accident. Victory in the Chanukah story was the preservation of the Jewish religious tradition against all odds — and its transmission to the next generation and from it to future generations. Over Chanukah we reaffirmed our commitment to education and the strength it brings us as a community.

Over the pandemic, the world of Jewish education has faced complex challenges. Schools and organisations have risen admirably to them. And yet they require deep thought.

Before we do so, we must be clear on what we seek to achieve. What is the role of Jewish education? Education, after all, is much more than the transfer of information — much more, even than training minds to think. It is the imparting of attitudes, ideals, and values.

While it is appropriate that each institution will have different aims, creating basic alignment between those working in overlapping spheres is so critical and can go so far towards shared goals and expectations and together help us achieve so much more.

With clarity of purpose we can begin to address some of the many questions that the pandemic has brought into sharp relief.

How do we navigate the complex role of families in their children’s Jewish education? What do students gain from experiential education, including trips abroad to Israel and Poland, and how can we mitigate the loss of these formative experiences? What is traditionally delivered across schools, communities and youth movements, where is there duplication, where is there opportunity for co-ordination and what falls through the gaps?

Where can technology supplement or support the teacher and where does the teacher remain irreplaceable? How do we recruit and retain the very best teachers and educators despite government funding cuts?

Covid gave rise to or exacerbated some of these challenges. Others have arisen in recent years across society but require a Jewish response. Have we, for example, found adequate tools to help young people engage proudly and meaningfully with Israel with today’s political backdrop, so vastly different from that of a generation ago? Is Jewish education holistic and relevant enough to speak to young people about their use of social media, the prevalence of mental ill health and contemporary sexual ethics and abuse.

Unlike technical challenges that have clear answers, I believe that complex challenges are often best approached collectively, bringing different voices, perspectives and skill sets to bear. In the education sector we benefit from coming together to learn from each other’s experience across the sector, formal and informal and from different parts of the community, religiously, geographically and generationally.

This is the basis of an important new initiative. Last month the London School of Jewish Studies, together with the UJIA who have been grappling with similar questions, convened a group of 75 educational leaders from a range of organisations, schools and youth movements to begin to tackle these challenges.

We launched a six-month review process in which five working groups will meet regularly to produce a set of recommendations for the sector. The groups will draw from their own array of experiences and expertise as well as on critical data, in particular from the newly published Jewish Lives Interrupted study (authored by Dr Helena Miller, senior research fellow at LSJS and Dr Alex Pomson, Rosov Consulting), which measures and analyses the impact of Covid on UK school students at key junctures.

There is much to be proud of across our wonderful community and its flagship schools but there is no room for complacency when talking about the future of our people and Jewish continuity itself. It behoves us to take time out for a health-check.

Adam Grant, author and organisational psychologist, discusses a concept that he terms Vous-jadé — looking at the same thing with fresh eyes. The pandemic provided us with a watershed moment. It has changed us, it has forced us to try new things and, more than anything, it should give us cause to stop and reflect on whether our existing systems are still fit for purpose.

It should challenge us to think differently, to consider new models of hybrid delivery, integrating the online and real worlds, blending the best of each.

When we dedicate our chanukiot next year, after our recommendations have been published, we hope to do so with renewed commitment to the chinuch of the next generation and a shared sense of refreshed purpose, fit for the 21st century and the post-Covid era.

Joanne Greenaway is chief executive of LSJS

READ MORE: Jewish Lives Interrupted - how the pandemic has affected our children

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive