Facing the 21st Century: The First International Conference of Jewish Pedagogic Centers

By Dianne Lewis


I was fortunate to be able to join over 120 participants from 39 countries including USA, Israel, England, Canada, South Africa, Greece, Denmark, Russia and many South American countries, to discuss Jewish education, the role of teachers' centres and resources.

Attending this conference was like being at the United Nations. Translators sat in booths at the rear of each room and wireless headphones were available for delegates at each session to provide simultaneous translation into Hebrew, English or Spanish.

Pedagogic centres originally developed in Israel in the 19SOs to support untrained teachers in small remote schools, with little or no resources. Today, they have the dual role of teachers' centre and resource centre. The teachers' centre focusses on support for day-to-day activities and provides planning and support for the execution of those activities. The resource centre has collections of teaching materials, teaches teachers how to use them and provides support and materials to enable them to produce their own. In Jewish communities outside Israel, pedagogic centres concentrate on the provision of Jewish resources.

The Tel Aviv Pedagogic Center is considered to be the largest and best resourced of the SO centres which operate in Israel. It serves 100 schools and thousands of teachers and informal educators in the Tel Aviv area. The centre occupies a large three storey building and employs more than SO people (42 EFT), including teachers who are subject specialists, computer and audio-visual technicians, graphic designers and clerical staff. Curriculum units are developed and are available for loan by teachers or other pedagogic centres.

The work of the centre is facilitated by the fact that Israel has a centralised and unified curriculum -all schools study exactly the same curriculum. In addition, each year certain themes are declared as the themes to be studied by all students -for example, the current theme is ecology.

The centre was physically very attractive with display material on every wall. On the first floor, a room was designated for each year level. Each room was decorated with age-appropriate material and provided access to appropriate teaching resources.

The centre included a small reference library which housed educational periodicals, some books and files of lesson plans and activities on various topics. The resources in the library were not for loan. The centre also included a computer laboratory for teacher use and a resource centre which housed material such as audio-visual material and teaching materials which were for loan.

In the production area of the pedagogic centre, teachers could use templates, prepared by the graphic artists, to create decorations and games to use in their own schools. This area had large work-tables and equipment such as photocopier, light box and laminating machine as well as materials necessary to make the items.

The pedagogic centre in Katzrin, capital of the Golan, was a much smaller centre and more representative of the majority of centres in Israel. It serviced 40 kindergartens and 7 schools located throughout the Golan. It shared a building in the main city square with the public library and housed, in one large room, all of the elements found in the Tel Aviv centre.

To develop curriculum units specifically for the Golan, subject specialists from surrounding schools worked with the pedagogic centre staff on a part-time basis. The permanent staff of the Katzrin centre consisted of a teacher I director, a secretary and a secretary I graphic artist.

The pedagogic centre of the Melton centre, the education library of the Hebrew University, houses a representative collection of Jewish resources (print and non-print) and curricula from around the world and is a superb resource. The Hebrew University, situated on Mount Scopus, has a breathtaking view overlooking the city of Jerusalem. I think I spent nearly as much time drinking in the view as I did checking out the resources.

To understand the educational context in which the pedagogic centres operated in Israel, I arranged to visit some schools. The Hebrew University High School, considered to be the elite school in Israel, was a large, selective, academic co-educational high school. The library was quite large, with a modem book stock, it was automated and also had CD-ROM access for students. The library subscribed to a bibliographic CD-ROM database developed by the ministry of education, however, the library provided no document delivery services for students. The library appeared to have a role of resource provision, rather than a more proactive educational role.

Givat Gonen was a co-educational school catering for students from years 4 -12. The library was a converted classroom rather than a custom built library, with shelving around the walls and tables arranged in a large open square in the centre of .the room. The librarian was vivacious and dynamic and had established a strong literature and information-skills programme in the school. The small library was obviously a popular place for students throughout the school day. Despite its limited resources, this library was philosophically similar to school libraries in Australia, UK and North America.

The Pelech school, regarded as having an innovative religious curriculum for girls, was housed in an old Arab house. The whole school appeared cramped and dilapidated. The library, which also doubled as a recreational area for students, was in keeping with the rest of the school.. There were little in the way of modern print or non-print resources in the library.

Israeli schools are fortunate in having access to some outstanding museums such as the Israel Museum which incorporates the Shrine of the Book, housing the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Museum of the Diaspora and Yad Vashem (the memorial to the holocaust). As part of the conference we had the opportunity to visit these museums and experience the outstanding educational programmes which their educational officers design and run for students.

The other major resource of Israeli educators is the country itself. There is enormous geographic diversity in such a small country. There is a heightened political awareness among even the children -teenagers regularly read at least one daily newspaper (not just the sport!). And of course there is the richness of the religious traditions. You can travel through the desert and feel its mystical qualities. You can stand in a valley and imagine where David fought Goliath.

There's lots more to tell but no more room to tell it.

Dianne Lewis