ORT Argentina: Changing Argentina's Educational Culture through Technology
The story of ORT begins in 1880, in St Petersburg, Czarist Russia.
ORT (an acronym of the Russian words Obshestvo Remeslenofo zemledelcheskofo Truda, - the Society for Trades and Agricultural Labour), was established to provide employable skills for Russia’s impoverished Jews.
Today, World ORT has become the world’s largest non-governmental provider of Jewish education and vocational training, and has operations in Israel, the CIS and Baltic States, Latin America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, North America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific.
While agricultural and artisan skills are no longer the lucrative skills they once were, the basic principles of ORT, namely, to put people on the path to economic independence, have remained unchanged for the past 130 years. The skills taught by ORT are constantly evolving, keeping in line with the demands of countries, and of the modern workplace. ORT today builds schools, develops curricula, and produces hardware, software, courseware and other teaching aids and publications.
In Argentina, ORT is working to give its students, both Jewish and non-Jewish, the best possible grounding for their future. ORT Argentina’s first Jewish school was established in Buenos Aires in 1941, to accommodate the wave of Jewish refugees arriving from Europe . Since then, ORT Argentina has established two state-of-the-art technical high-schools in the Buenos Aires districts of Belgrano and Almagro. “Eighty percent of students receiving a Jewish education in Argentina are receiving it from ORT,” says Valerie Khaytina, World ORT’s Deputy North American Representative.
ORT Argentina, which receives funding from the Jewish Federations of North America, emphasizes hands-on learning in science and technology, and has become one of the top educational providers in the country.
ORT Argentina schools have a strong pluralistic model. Along with a top quality secular studies curriculum, they boast a Jewish studies program with a strong academic focus. While the student body is predominantly Jewish, the schools also accept non-Jewish students. Fifty five percent of ORT’s students receive financial aid, making the academic opportunities ORT provides available to everyone. According to school estimates, approximately 96 percent of students complete college, while 92 percent find work in their chosen fields, an impressive achievement in a country beleaguered by economic problems.
ORT Argentina is also a powerhouse of innovation. When ORT first started teaching technology, the subject was not part of the country’s general curriculum. As a result, it developed a wide range of teaching materials and in 2003, established the Teaching and Learning Resource Centre (CREA), enabling ORT’s technology teachers to share their resources with teachers of other subjects, such as Math and English. ORT’s Teaching and Learning Resource Centers have now become an international network. ORT has also built Argentina’s first virtual campus, which helps students and teachers to exchange information, engage in group work, and establish social networks.
ORT Argentina is now using its technical expertise to reach out to other schools, and is making fundamental changes in the educational culture of Argentina. In 2009, ORT Argentina launched a project to train state school teachers in using technology in the classroom. “If a teacher from the 1880’s walked into a typical classroom in Argentina today,” says Khaytina, “he or she would know exactly what to do. They would find rows of desks facing a black-board and chalk. ORT is trying to bring education into the 21st century.”
The project stemmed from a visit to ORT Argentina by Santa Fe Education Minister Elida Rasino. “Minister Rasino recognized the opportunity we offered to transform the system and sent a team of experts to assess what we were doing,” Alejandro Ferrari, Studies Director at the ORT technical school, Belgrano campus, told World ORT.
The pilot project, encompassing seven schools from Santa Fe’s Rosario district, trained 1-2 teachers from each school in using software tools to foster interaction and collaboration between them and their students. In a model similar to that of the Innovation Leader in World ORT's Kadima Mada program in Israel, the teachers returned to the schools in order to train their colleagues in what they learned.
The project aims to empower teachers in designing teaching strategies and developing their own virtual resources for their students. In an age where children are highly proficient in technology, closing the technology gap between teachers and students is essential. “A big problem is that students know more than their teachers about using new technology,” said Ferrari, “But when they see that their teachers are adept in using technology, they develop a new respect for them. We find that the relationship between teachers and students improves daily.”
Celino Mabel Savino, a teacher who started training with ORT Argentina in September 2009, can testify to that fact. “I have been a teacher for 17 years but have never used technology in school during that time,” she says. “Since ORT started helping us to design virtual teaching materials, I have undergone a major professional transformation: I plan lessons differently, develop my own virtual material and listen more to my students.”
Savino has also seen major changes in the school, particularly with the students.
“My school has also been transformed in a very short time: we have created a new computer lab and my fellow teachers have become increasingly collaborative and innovative. Teachers now share resources and experiences. The students have become active participants in their learning; the use of computers has created highly motivated kids. Virtual resources develop reasoning skills and problem solving and also promote autonomy in the process of knowledge acquisition.”
The program has also enabled Savino to grow professionally. “I now train my colleagues in various educational institutions and have presented my experiences at a major national conference. I hope to continue growing, helping other teachers to change their methods and motivating my students to learn more and better.”
Ferrari and his colleagues provide ongoing support to the training teachers at the Rosario schools, making periodic visits so they can understand the context in which the trainers teach, and the resources available to them.
Education Minister Rasino has since visited three of the participating schools, where she saw students working on projects about color theory made with graphics software and computer aided design (CAD), and observed language students develop skills in formulating arguments using wikis, blogs and online videos.
The pilot has proven to be highly successful. In response to expressions of interest from education authorities in the provinces of San Juan, Entre Rios, Corrientes and Tucuman, ORT hopes to expand the project to 200 schools this year. “What we are doing is 99 per cent about inculcating a new educational culture and only one percent developing technological skills,” Ferrari told World ORT. “It’s very exciting.”
The Jewish Federations of North America funds World ORT programs in Argentina, Israel and the former Soviet Union. “JFNA funding leverages additional local funding for ORT programs worldwide,” says Khaytina. “It enables us to provide scholarships for students, and to train teachers. We are extremely grateful for JFNA’s support, and we invite more federation representatives and missions to visit ORT Argentina first hand.”
By Devorah Nutovics
Radio Broadcasting Studio at ORT Argentina High School
Training school teachers in using technology in the classroom
Celina M. Savino, a school teacher trained by ORT, trains her colleagues in using computer programs in the classroom