The rockets falling on southern Israel were anything but virtual, but for a week, school was. And the situation for students there during the recent Gaza war gives fresh relevance to the educational concept of “distance learning.”
In between running to the bomb shelter during eight days of Hamas rocket fire, Paz Azran, 17, kept up with her studies at the Israel Sci-Tech Henry Ronson High School in Ashkelon with the help of her computer and the school’s virtual school.
“The teachers post all the material we need, and every class has its own material,” she said. “Every teacher gives us different websites to study from or scans materials and posts them for us to study from. Even if we had to stay home a week or two more we would be fine because you can actually learn from the Internet everything you need.”
Azran added that the virtual classroom was invaluable because “we have final exams in two or three months — exams that are used for college entrance.”
Shai Lewinsohn, the head of foreign relations for the Israel Sci-Tech schools, a network of 200 schools, said the reliance on the virtual classroom began when Israel responded Nov. 14 to the frequent Hamas rocket attacks on southern Israel and Hamas replied in kind.
“It’s interactive,” he said of the virtual classroom. “Students can communicate with teachers and their classmates, and we have also established a system in which students can communicate by cell phone with their teachers. If teachers want to create virtual lessons, they have the ability to send instant messages to the cell phones of all the students in their class.”
Not only was the system used by the Ronson school’s 1,200 students, but Lewinsohn said it was used by all 6,000 students in the 10 schools in his network that were closed during Operation Pillar of Defense because they were within the 25-mile line of fire from Gaza. In addition, he said the system was made available for use by other schools also closed during the fighting. (The Ronson school itself was struck by a rocket, which punched a hole in its roof; no one was injured.)
Azran said that she was able to use Skype to study with friends. But she confessed that it was “really hard to study because you can’t concentrate when hearing sirens in the background. A lot of students got stressed out, left the city and went north where it was quieter. My family thought about doing that, but for me it was not an option. The Israel Defense Forces told us how to keep safe, and if you listen there is no reason to get hurt.”
A phys-ed class of sorts was part of the routine.
The community shelter is about a 25-second run from Azran’s house, and the sirens sounded when a rocket was on the way — giving her just 30 seconds to find shelter.
“We have had to run to the shelter eight or nine times each day — once as much as 15 times,” she recalled.
But she added that the rocket attacks in the last war with Hamas nearly four years ago were “much more stressful” because the Iron Dome anti-missile system that had a reported success rate of 90 percent was not yet in place.
“Rockets were falling in every part of the city,” she said. “Now… we feel safer.”
In an effort to aid students in the south of Israel suffering from trauma, the Friends of Israel Sci-Tech Schools this week announced a campaign to raise funds for mental health services. For more information, visit www.israel-scitech-schools.org.