Technology for Torah Education

January 19, 2017

Source: Jerusalem Post


The happy boys danced, sang, cheered for their teachers and even jumped on tables when the head of school called their classroom by name. While the enthusiastic pupils have been learning together daily for three months, they were only seeing their teachers and fellow students in person for the first time – the boys, ages six to 14, spend up to six and a half hours a day together, where they participate in Chabad Shluchim (emissaries) Online School.

The young yeshiva students who came to Brooklyn on November 23, 2017 – Thanksgiving Day in America – to participate in a “Day of Celebration” were from Mexico, Canada, Venezuela, England, Sweden, Norway, and places in the United States such as Tennessee, Rhode Island, Iowa and Alaska. The boys were accompanying their fathers attending the 5,000-person International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries

Their parents direct Chabad Houses around the world, and agree that the Online School, pioneered by Chabad, has helped make it possible to live and serve in communities without any Jewish day school. The Online School has made it possible for their children to receive a “proper Chabad education” without being home-schooled. The spreading of Jewish knowledge and observance were important core principles of the late Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh leader in the Chabad-Lubavitch Hassidic dynasty and one of the most important Jewish leaders of the 20th century.

The fathers and sons were visibly excited as they entered the nicely decorated ballroom at Congregation B’nai Jacob in Park Slope, Brooklyn. “I just saw my kid meet his classmates for the first time in his life – this is a very beautiful moment,” observes Rabbi Benny Hershkovich of Los Cabos, Mexico, here with his eightyear- old son Kovi, a third grader.

According to Devora Leah Notik, associate director of the Nigri International Shluchim Online School, “a small group of parents approached the Shluchim Office about 10 years ago and said, ‘We don’t have the infrastructure where we live. And we want our kids to learn with others who understand the challenges of living far off, on shlihut.”

The Shluchim Office – the central addresses for anything an emissary might need – responded to the request which began as a telephone conference call before moving to Skype. “Then it grew and grew and grew…” reports Notik.

The Nigri International Shluchim Online School currently operates as four separate divisions, serving four geographic areas across the world: Western America, Eastern America, Euro/Asia (English Division) and Western Europe/Asia (Hebrew Division). Even though it’s online, the pupils are separated by gender. The academic year generally runs from early September through the end of June.

The curriculum, teaching methods and special school-wide programming are unique to online learning.

The regularly updated curriculum needs to be formatted for posting in both Power Point and slideshow mediums. Pupils wear uniforms (a vest with the Chabad Online School logo), have webcams and microphones, raise their hands to participate, and take online quizzes and tests. They view their teachers and fellow pupils on half of the screen, and view white boards and slides on the other half. Teachers sometimes utilize breakout rooms where children learn and work in pairs or larger group, and teachers freely move between rooms.

Four-year-olds sing, and learn about the weekly Torah portion and mitzvot for 60 to 90 minutes, while eighth-grade boys in the transition to yeshiva program learn for six and a half hours a day. Most of the boys will begin boarding at yeshivot in Israel or America at age 14. Teachers across the different age groups work to synchronize breaks – every 45 minutes – and lunchtimes to make it easier for families.

Parents have a mostly typical school experience. They attend online parent conferences, pay tuition (scholarships are available), and purchase uniforms and books, though children in faraway places sometimes receive materials in PDF format to cut down on wait time for shipping. The curriculum focuses on religious subjects of all kinds: prayer, Hassidic philosophy, Torah and Talmud, and others.

Pupils with diverse learning needs are also able to participate. “That was the rebbe’s mission – to provide a superior, well-rounded Jewish education for every child and to answer the needs of every child,” says Notik. “We are able to include students by offering shadows, homework helpers, tutoring services, paras and IEPs (individualized education plans). We cater to multiple learning styles and have lots of visuals.”

Read the entire article at The Jerusalem Post.

Updated: Feb. 13, 2017