Welcome to the Coronavirus-proof Classroom: Israel’s First Virtual School

July 16, 2020

Source: Haaretz 


As the coronavirus continues to thrive, Israel may soon have its first fully online school. Starting in the fall as the new school year begins, the virtual institution plans to offer a full curriculum to students from seventh grade through twelfth grade, with no physical building or use of textbooks.

The virtual school, so far dubbed “ZSchool: School of the Generation Z,” is the brainchild of Moshe Kinley Tur-Paz, the director of the Kadima Mada educational network and former head of Jerusalem’s educational administration, and Paz Cohen, the CEO of Anu – Making Change, a social hub, and former parents association chairman. The two are in talks with philanthropic foundations and investors to raise 7 million shekels ($2 million) and are in talks with the Education Ministry to obtain certification to enable the school to access ministry funding. Education Ministry officials confirmed that the initiative is under discussion.

The vision begins with limiting classes to 12 pupils, who won’t have to buy physical books: the school will provide them with laptops and internet connectivity. Like brick-and-mortar schools, ZSchool will offer enrichment classes, social activities, community volunteering and counseling, but in its case, it will be open to students nationwide. The starting gross salary for teachers will be 14,000 shekels a month, more than the norm in the establishment schools.

The business model is based on a pilot for around 1,000 students during the coming school year, Cohen and Tur-Paz say. Ultimately the model could enable long-distance learning for hundreds of thousands of children if schooling is forced to move online due to the coronavirus.

“In an emergency, it would be possible to quickly ramp up from 1,000 to 300,000 students,” Cohen says. “This is not the optimal trajectory, but if Israeli schools close due to the coronavirus, we will be able to take responsibility for nearly every high school student in Israel. All the lesson plans are ready, in compliance with the Education Ministry curriculum.”

At this point, the founders may have a working plan and a curriculum for high school students but can’t start hiring teachers until approval arrives from the Education Ministry. Even so, Tur-Paz and Cohen say they have already contacted potential teachers. “There are lots of good teachers who were in the education system and were ejected from it because they felt lost in the system,” said Tur-Paz. “The bureaucracy and management wore them out. I hope they find their place with us.”

Over 300,000 children study full-time in virtual schools around the world, and millions of students, mostly in the United States, learn in a hybrid model, though the demand for that is mainly among outstanding students or children from a wealthy background. In Israel, the pandemic wound up demonstrating that the Education Ministry has not been been preparing for virtual learning, which has so far been confined mainly to classes by Zoom. Tur-Paz and Cohen offer a more organized and more diverse model.

Read the entire article at Haaretz

Updated: Aug. 18, 2020