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Jewish educational choices in the time of COVID

Updated: Sep 3, 2020

This is going to be a school year like no other.

You know it. We know it. The teachers know it. The students know it.

Public and private schools worldwide are working around the clock to plan and prepare for the safest possible return to the classroom. Dedicated teams of administrators, teachers, maintenance staff, and board and volunteer committees are doing their utmost to meet ministry and health authority guidelines. Our private Jewish day schools are going above and beyond, adding extra levels of safety precautions (i.e. "chumrot") beyond what the government is mandating, and planning for a blend of in-class learning and online at-home learning.

While we pray and plan for the best, and hope that social distancing and other COVID measures do the trick and keep our children in school, we also are keenly aware that this is a ruthless, uncompromising virus, always looking for a way in.

An article in the news recently, "Massive outbreaks in Israeli schools a 'cautionary tale' for Canada" portends the likely outcome this year for our children. In all likelihood, this will be a year of on-again, off-again in-person schooling, as our schools deal with localized outbreaks.

If the last few months are any indication, our schools and educational programs will have to take a quantum leap forward in online schooling - Zoom classes and other ed-tech platforms will continue to be used to connect with classes of students learning from home.

While much has been written about the unequal access to online platforms at the socioeconomic level, and the challenges of working parents trying to supervise their children's learning while also trying to be productive at work, as an educator and parent, I am more worried about the poor fit between individual students learning styles and needs, levels of intrinsic motivation, and their teachers who have to try and reach 20-25 students per Zoom class. The race to figure out how to master that online learning space is on - nothing at the elementary or high school level can ever compare with face-to-face in-class learning for the vast majority of students, at least not to deliver the educational program as currently constructed.

Let's complicate matters even more, and move into the Jewish space of curriculum - the raison d'etre of our private Jewish Day Schools and supplementary / congregational schools. If a child struggles or is unmotivated in these subjects, being able to motivate and inspire that child in a Zoom class with all of his/her peers is significantly more challenging, especially if many parents themselves are unfamiliar with the Hebrew or the content being taught, and are therefore not able to help their children in their online learning. And let's face it, with respect to the pecking order of which subjects are given importance over others (at least with respect to marks and academic success), secular studies is way in the lead.

This is the formula we need to tackle: Challenges with learning + declining motivation over time + online learning for a full class = a BIG PROBLEM for an inspiring and inspired Jewish education... for all of us.

So we need to tackle this as a community and as individual families, and roll up our sleeves and get to work. Let's all commit to doing more Jewishly, be it lighting Shabbat candles as a family on a weekly basis, or taking the steps to introduce more Jewish learning and Jewish experiences into the family home.

Love Jewish Learning is focused solely on this challenge. In our small, humble way, we are here to meet a need, which is to partner with committed families and phenomenal, inspiring educators with motivated kids for relevant, joyous Jewish learning. Structured as a series of weekly educational Zoom seminars on a variety of Judaic subjects over the course of the school year, Love Jewish Learning seminars will never exceed 5 students per subject taught, which mitigates the challenges of online learning for students. Offering boutique, personalized classes to small groups of students affords us the best of options - safe learning with a 1:5 teacher-to-student ratio, which maximizes the student teacher relationship and allows for a great back-and-forth flow when learning the wonderful parts of our traditions, laws and customs, and history. In practice, it means no child will be left behind or neglected in his or her learning. We will take equal care in choosing the teacher who is the best fit for the age range and subject taught, as we will in selecting the right students for each seminar.

Our student-centred seminars are being developed for a number of different demographics:

  • Families with students in public or private non-Jewish schools, at both the elementary and high school levels;

  • Families who can no longer afford the rising cost of Jewish Day Schools, or because of the pandemic, have reduced earning capacity and have had to take their children out of Jewish Day School school; and

  • Families who have children in Jewish Day Schools, but want to enrich their children's Jewish learning

Judaism has always been about adaptation and innovation; it has been the key to our survival and our success over the millennia. We're excited about this journey on which we are about to embark, and we hope you are too.

If you believe you want something amazing for your children, and want to help them fall in love with being Jewish, click here to learn more.

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