The paper will first describe the challenges that the Israeli teacher education colleges faced during the Coronavirus outbreak. It will then present an initiative launched by the Israeli Ministry of Education (MoE) to open an alternative route of an initial teacher education programme geared towards academics who lost their jobs as a result of the epidemic and are interested in re-training themselves to become teachers. The final part will discuss the main conclusions and reflections on the situation which can be drawn at this point in time.
Higher education institutions in Israel, including teacher education colleges, were among the few public bodies that were not paralysed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Teaching and learning continued, by and large, with almost no disturbances. Although news about the closure of schools and universities came from China seven weeks before it was announced in Israel, no operative measures were taken by the teacher colleges to prepare for a similar situation. The unpreparedness of the Israeli colleges is somewhat surprising since the State of Israel faces constant security threats. In addition, despite the many efforts to introduce technology into the teaching and learning processes of the Israeli teacher education colleges over the past two decades, too many teacher educators were caught unprepared and lacked the necessary knowledge to cope.
The widespread and rapid expansion of the Coronavirus in the world, including in Israel, has accelerated processes which have taken place in higher education in general, and in teacher education colleges in particular, for a long time. After four months of online teaching under forced quarantine and social distancing, it can be determined unequivocally that the teacher colleges have come out of this period firm and reinforced. What began in the first few weeks as emergency remote learning in a crisis situation, a sort of survival mode, has slowly evolved into well planned quality online learning. With the help of the campus support personnel who even provided private tutorial to lecturers, online learning did not remain a weak substitute to face-to-face education. Lecturers worked days and nights, learning how to modify and redesign their lessons. This learning process was challenging particularly in regard to what were normally hands-on workshops, and experiential project-based courses.
The immediate need for an emergency remote teaching forced teacher educators to consume the numerous professional development opportunities provided to them by their institutions. Yet, even more meaningful were the dozens of bottom-up professional learning communities (PLCs) that emerged from the teachers themselves, with entire colleges becoming communities of practice (Wenger 1998). Within the PLCs, many teacher educators, who are usually used to working on their own, were engaged in worthwhile conversations and actions about the nature and direction of their coursework with teacher candidates. In pursuing their shared interest in times of distress, they built relationships that enabled them to learn with and from each other. Collegiality, solidarity and collaboration as well as trust and respect among members of PLCs have been identified as essential ingredients of an effective community (Whitcomb, Borko, and Liston 2009). These characteristics ultimately lead to a safe and supportive environment in which members are more likely to deepen understanding and attempt new practices that will reach more learners. Paradoxically, a period of social distancing and self-quarantine led to increased peer collaboration, shared learning and mutual aid. These strong ties are the backbone of healthy organisation and institutions. Whether this becomes a norm in a coronavirus free future remains to be seen.
Launching the new alternative initial teacher education programmes in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis was a bold proactive decision made by the Ministry of Education despite the vast public criticism. Policy makers at the Ministry clearly trusted the teacher education colleges to handle such a programme given their successful functioning during the Covid-19 outbreak. The ability of the teacher colleges to face public criticism and their confidence in taking such a mission upon themselves, was also rooted in the way they handled the teaching and learning during the Coronavirus pandemic.
While most alternative teacher education programmes have emerged as a counter-movement to traditional teacher education programmes and the dissatisfaction from them (Darling-Hammond, Chung, and Frelow 2002), the current programme was an attempt of the Ministry to seize an opportunity to recruit high-quality candidates into the education system. However, in a similar way to other alternative programmes, this one also offered components which are missing in the traditional ones, such as transformative-oriented professional development (Kennedy 2014), change of regularities in space-and-time (Murray 2012), on-the-job training (Guha, Hyler, and Darling-Hammond 2017), collaborative learning (Chicoine 2004), and personalised learning (Gamrat et al. 2014). All these components characterised the learning during the Coronavirus time.
In conclusion, the Coronavirus era led the Israeli teacher education system, and particularly its staff members, to adapt to the 4th industrial revolution of the 21st century (Hussin 2018). The next challenge in the near future is to fortify and maintain these achievements. It is the duty of teacher education programmes to equip student teachers with the knowledge, tools and resilience that would help them cope effectively with upcoming education challenges such as the ones faced during the Covid-19 pandemic.
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