Jewish Education Doesn’t Need a Grand Pivot, It Needs Investment in its Most Valuable Commodities

April 28, 2020

Source:  eJewish Philanthropy 


The truth is, the ideas and technology that power “distance learning” are not new at all, and frankly they’re not even that effective. Study after study (since 1996!) continue to suggest that while there may be some promise to online distance learning, it has not yet been proven to be any more effective at actually increasing student achievement at a K-12 level than “traditional” learning. The most recent meta-analysis from last year bluntly states its findings right in the title: “A Spotlight on Lack of Evidence Supporting the Integration of Blended Learning in K-12 Education”.

I’ve written previously about our community’s wrongheaded approach to seeing technology as a panacea to make Jewish education more affordable (it won’t), and about how we ascribe a magic to the capacity of new technological tools to “transform Jewish education” (they won’t do that either), and anyone who has spent more than a few minutes examining the data or the history of educational technology knows this.

To be sure, technology certainly allows us the ability to more efficiently access resources that we might not have been able to easily access before, and harnessed appropriately it has the power to transform classrooms to learning environments where students can gain more control over the nature of their own learning. But none of that has to do with technology, it has to do with the quality of the teacher, and their ability and willingness to embrace a constructivist educational approach. This is frankly not a radical new idea, but one articulated by John Dewey more than a hundred years ago when he reminded us that the primary purpose of education and schooling is not so much to prepare students to live a useful life in the future, but to teach them how to live pragmatically and immediately in their current environment.

In his 1980’s book Mindstorms, which examines the promise and possibilities of computer facilitated instruction, Seymour Papert writes, “Only rarely does some exceptional event lead people to reorganize their intellectual self-image in such a way as to open up new perspectives on what is learnable.” I’m pretty sure now is one of those times, and while I admittedly don’t know what this new pedagogy or new curricular content will look like, I know it’s going to be driven by teachers and not technology.

Our Jewish educational goal can’t simply be to provide an affordable experience that emphasizes shiny technologies. Instead we need to craft specific, measurable and attainable educational goals that we expect Jews to learn over their educational career, and then we need to figure out the best way of implementing those. Personally, I think digital tools have a large role to play in that endeavor, and there’s a good deal of data to support that assertion. But this same research, along with decades and decades of other educational data emphasizes the need for these educational initiatives to be grounded in solid pedagogy first.

Read more at eJewish Philanthropy.


Updated: May. 11, 2020