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Why UJEB needs to change

July 26, 2015 – 10:44 pm3 Comments

By Leonie Ben-Simon:

UJEB as we knosocia-media-for-educationw it has become a dinosaur and needs to change its modus operandi.

These days thousands of Jewish children within our community are not able to attend Jewish Day Schools. As such the time has come for UJEB to become an online education system, supplemented by group events and camps.    

UJEB is failing our Jewish state school children not because of any lack of good intent, but due to the changing nature Australian society.

The concentration of religious education is now in the private school sector.  This is because parents who care about morality prefer to enrol their children in private schools where religions are taken for granted and actually taught rather than ignored.

At the moment we are facing a wholesale push to remove one small weekly class of religious instruction from state schools.  Half of the children who previously benefited from this tiny amount of learning about their heritage have now been offloaded. There are moves afoot to covert these classes to analysis of different religions of the world.

The UJEB programs available in the state schools in the Caulfield area not a complete solution and in any case are not accessible to those who do not have the means to live there.

Going back to what we are taught: it is the responsibility of fathers to educate their children.

We have to consider that if UJEB as it is is not the answer, but parents do not have the knowledge to provide a Jewish education on their own, there is another solution. Online classes are a great way for parents to meet this responsibility and encourage participation in Jewish studies under their own roof.

Online education is not a buzzword.  It is now a recognised part of world-wide education, from outback Australia to international tertiary education.  The Israeli government is using online education to reach the periphery towns as access to quality teachers is mainly limited to central Israel.  Masters degrees from quality universities are now available online. Online is now mainstream.

Imagine:  a dedicated online Jewish education website targeting different age groups presenting festivals, the Bible, Jewish history, the Hebrew language and publicising community events suitable for children, all presented with authentic Australian accents which our children can relate to.

Jewish schools can cooperate by sharing footage of events such as a Model Seder or a morning prayer service complete with students. There could even be backup classes for parents.

There is no limit to what can be done: interactive classes, classes for post-Bar-Mitzvah, classes that can be saved to watch at convenient times and referrals to other in-depth websites including Hebrew language classes. Parents make a small payment to religious instruction in schools now; it is reasonable to expect that they could contribute the same for online education.

The upside of online classes is the availability to children in outlying suburbs, and savings on teachers’ wages. This would rule out dependence upon political decisions which  are excluding many children from RI classes in schools right now.

Even more interesting would be participation of parents together with their children in Jewish education in a language that children of today understand well and relate to easily: technology.

Perhaps a deciding factor for so many parents could be not having to drive children to after school or Sunday classes when it is so convenient to just turn on an iPad or computer at home for a lesson .

Many parents are not enrolling their children in Jewish schools despite fee reduction offers.  Their reasons are usually financial, but not always.    As a community we have a responsibility to ensure that these children do not miss out on their heritage. It is no fault of the children that they are being kept ignorant.

Rather than engage in a losing battle with state schools and power groups who believe that religious education should come from the home if at all, it is now time to grab the bull by the horns and move into this millennium by harnessing technology for the benefit of every child in our community.

This proposal should not be seen as a criticism of the good work of UJEB, not as a replacement for a valuable Jewish day-school education,  but rather a response to changing times and the current inability of our processes to reach each and every Jewish child.

Leonie Ben-Simon MBA is a passionate advocate of Jewish education for all Jewish children. She is a former member of the predecessor of the JCCV and the State Emergency Services. A mother of six adult daughters she now fills in her time as the Director of Jobstar, an online job advertiser.  

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  • Ron Burdo says:

    Hi Leonie,

    One cannot educate children to adapt a communal, religious or national identity based on online classes. This must be done by face-to-face interaction with other children. Online classes are good for passing technical knowledge like university classes or high-school science classes. Not for passing on heritage and identity.

    I agree that the 1 hour a week does not have much effect and that even this poor hour is endangered, but the affordable and accessible solution should be based on after-school classes, where Jewish children can meet and have common experiences.

  • Robert Hain says:

    I agree with Ron.

    Online courses may work for older people with specific technical training, but as someone who does teach remotely, it is still always much more effective to teach in person.

    The bulk of UJEBs attention is aimed at the primary aged children, and for this age group, classroom style teaching along with groups of children would be best. If this was left to parents to supervise an online style course, it just would not happen.

    Regardless of any education, the best teaching is done by parents, based on the activities and customs within the family. I know of many families who spend the money on private Jewish education but do nothing at home, and whilst the kids might learn the theory, do not put it into practice, and very quickly forget it.

    I also have a problem with your statement “Many parents are not enrolling their children in Jewish schools despite fee reduction offers.” As a parent in that situation, whilst some Jewish schools do reduce the fee for those in need, most of them offer a “deferred payment option” without much of a reduction. This does NOT work for many families.

    Not all children are in the Caulfield “bagel belt”, nor are they all suited to the “dual curriculum” undertaken in the Jewish school system, and they don’t always have the resources to handle kids who require a different style of teaching or a wider choice of subjects.

    For many reasons (and I have only listed a few), UJEB is important, and whilst there are always ways of improving what is provided, their funding model doesn’t always allow for it. What is needed is better funding for UJEB so that they can pursue better ways in providing this vital service to the community.

  • Dr David Zyngier says:

    I write regarding the recent article in the Australian Jewish News Jewish education crisis at non-Jewish schools and MP Southwick’s Adjournment Speech regarding the United Jewish Education Board’s complaints against the principals of named schools with large numbers of students from Jewish backgrounds:
    denying …. Jewish students access to Jewish education within the school … with now more than 700 Jewish students – close to 50 per cent – at Victorian government schools excluded from a Jewish education at their schools.

    To be clear – no Jewish children have been denied or excluded from a Jewish education.

    There is to be very clear NO crisis for Jewish children in government schools. The parents of those children after receiving the appropriate SRI opt-in forms from the school have after due consideration chosen not to reply in sufficient numbers to warrant the whole school stopping their secular program for a minority of children.

    Moreover the UJEB and MP Suthwick are being deceptive and disingenuous. Jewish children are not being denied choice as Southwick claims.

    While you have had discussions with Ms Newton and Mr Goldfarb they may not have informed you that UJEB is currently running (and has done so fo many years) very successful after school programs in some of these primary schools for Jewish children.
    UJEB runs Jewish learning and Hebrew language centres for primary school students at 2 different locations after school.
    Each centre’s curriculum provides a full Hebrew language and Jewish studies program that covers traditions, customs and festivals.
    By attending our programs our students develop a lifetime of knowledge and skills in a dynamic educational environment which ensures their ability to participate in Jewish communal life.

    Moreover UJEB runs other very well attended education programs – and has done so for many years – my own children attended – where families can send their children for hours of real education and not instruction.

    The Jewish community is very well served with a plethora of Jewish Youth movements as well operating on weekends – both religious of all persuasions and also secular, some even aligned to synagogues. At these youth movements Jewish children receive free intensive cultural, historical and religious education – they attend camps and hikes and social events – all led by well trained youth leaders under the guidance of experienced adult educators.

    The Jewish community in Melbourne is always well served with many many religious institutions from ultra-orthodox to very liberal and every shade in between. Many of them have organsied Sunday School programs. These synagogues are open to all and Jewish families needing assistance in the Jewish education of their children only need to ask the Rabbi and he or she will be in their home in a flash!

    The 30 minutes a week of Special Religious Instruction is not as your department now recognises Education. That is what happens in classrooms with professional teachers.

    SRI is disruptive of the school program as the principals of these schools have realised. It interferes with the core business of schools – education. It often undoes the great work that teachers do in encouraging critical thinking and high levels of intellectual work. (see my review of the ACCESS Ministries instructional material attached).

    Classroom learning of all students does not stop when a child goes to have guitar or piano lessons – or even remedial education – out of the classroom.

    Why is SRI for a minority of students then allowed to determine the school program for the majority?

    Induction into the tenets of a religion is a family responsibility and not that of the state . The sooner that General Religious Education is available for all our children taught by their classroom teacher the better.

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