How Israel’s Avant-Garde Schools Are Reshaping American Education

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Levinsky College of Education in Tel-Aviv
Levinsky College of Education in Tel-Aviv

How Israel’s Avant-Garde Schools Are Reshaping American Education

By Shlomo Lifshitz

What can Israel teach American teachers, school administrators and budding educators about education? Much more, apparently, than you might suspect.

So why exactly are teachers traveling thousands of miles to visit Tichonet, Israel’s uniquely paperless school, where binders and textbooks have been replaced by tablets and other hi-tech gadgets? What are American educators looking for in Israel’s “Democratic” private school system that they cannot find back home in America? What tips on school administration could Israeli Education Ministry leaders be offering that would attract teachers from around the globe?

Israel – Global Education Center?

Israelis have grown up with the expectation that they must think ways out of problems rather than throw cash at inefficient stopgaps.
At first blush it’s admittedly hard for Americans to understand why Israel is rapidly becoming a major contributor in education advances. We tend to think about it in fairly superficial, simplistic terms. Mention Israel, and images of strife, politics, hummus, and beaches come to mind. But Israel has also earned another reputation for itself–leader in innovation, creator of avant-garde schools.

In the business world, Israel has come to be known as the “Start-up Nation,” with more start-ups per capita than anywhere else on earth. The same is true in hi-tech, where Israeli developers create more patents in the US every year than any other single country. In fact, Israel has become recognized in a number of diverse fields as a leading innovator, from medicine and business to computer tech and agriculture.

Now education is fast becoming yet another area in which Israeli advances are drawing attention from around the world. But why?

Adversity and Innovation

The key to Israeli innovation generally lies in the difficult conditions the Jewish State was founded in. A relatively small country with few natural resources and seemingly insurmountable challenges, Israel has nurtured a can-do attitude towards solving dilemmas.

Israelis have grown up with the expectation that they must think ways out of problems rather than throw cash at inefficient stopgaps. That’s the underlying ethos that led Israeli farmers, struggling with the country’s rugged terrain and arid climate to innovate new farming techniques allowing them to compete on the world market.

When the nascent Jewish state was flooded with poverty-stricken immigrants from around the world, that challenge led to the first Israeli educational innovation–the Ulpan.  Far more than just a Hebrew language school, the Ulpan is an institution central to Israeli culture, enabling social integration and community-building in an interdisciplinary educational process. In recent years, the Ulpan model of education has found fertile soil in the unlikeliest of places–American inner-cities.

In areas like Washington D.C., San Diego, Harlem, and Los Angeles, Hebrew charter schools like Sela and the Harlem Hebrew Language Academy have been created; not to service Jewish populations but for the diverse, mostly minority, residents of urban centers. Utilizing the Ulpan model to integrate students of different backgrounds, the Hebrew charter schools employ Hebrew language instruction and even Israeli cultural studies to create a sense of community.

The Israeli Educational Experience

Much of the Levinsky program’s appeal is the practical, hands-on element it offers.
Given the success of the Hebrew charter school system in America, it’s not surprising that Ulpan classes have become a prominent feature in Israeli programs designed for Western educators, including Levinsky’s international education program. Tel Aviv’s Levinsky College of Education is perhaps the most prominent Israeli school featuring international programs teaching overseas students how to integrate Israeli innovations into their classrooms back home.

Unlike most educational exchange opportunities in Israel, the Levinsky international program doesn’t focus on a single school type or pedagogic innovation. Instead, it brings a wide range of Israeli ideas together under one roof, exposing participants to the full array of new concepts developed in the Jewish state.

The integration of technology into the classroom is examined, for instance, at the Tichonet high school, the famous all-digital “paperless” school. Dynamic new leadership models for educators are also studied, bringing participants into the classroom to see how
non-hierarchical learning structures compare with traditional hierarchies. The possibilities offered by informal education are also explored from theory to practice.

Much of the Levinsky program’s appeal is the practical, hands-on element it offers. While theories can be taught anywhere, Levinsky gives educators, administrators and education students the chance to see experimental models in action and to meet both students and teachers. That’s proved a powerful draw, bringing in students from around the world to get a firsthand experience with all that modern education has to offer.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Education are hallmarks of the International School at Levinsky College of Education–an example of how Israeli avant-garde schools are reshaping American education.

Shlomo Lifshitz is the CEO and founder of Study in Israel LLC. He focuses on making Israel a center of global education, by working with top academic institutions on promotion and enrollment for programs taught in English in Israel. Lifshitz has over 25 years of experience in education tourism as former owner of Oranim Educational Initiatives and has brought over 150,000 young adults to Israel on various programs. For more details see:
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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series -- books and other series that provide right-now solutions for teachers and learners. Mark is the author or publisher of dozens of books, including Bestseller Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Join more than 150,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.
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