Why UJEB needs to change
By Leonie Ben-Simon:
UJEB as we know 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.