Jewish school takes giant leap into ICT future

Being a technology laggard allowed Kadimah College to leap to the forefront with some new computing investments

The only private Jewish day school in New Zealand, Kadimah College in Auckland’s central city, decided it was time to take the ICT plunge.

Less than a year ago, the college had five computers connected to the internet. Today it runs a web-based system that allows students and staff to plan and manage work, do and correct homework, manage email and calendar information, and to easily find the right person to contact — all online, from anywhere, says the school’s principal, Lara Syddall.

The system includes an e-learning hub, an events management system, a facilities booking system and a reporting system, which parents can access to see how their child is doing.

The new system has helped meet educational needs, but technology has also helped make the school less isolated, connecting it to other Jewish communities around the country and overseas, says Syddall.

“We have started on a journey and are certainly nowhere near the end of it,” she says.

The project also includes facilitating every classroom with a smartboard and projector and hooking up the whole school to a wireless network.

Every student has their own e-portfolio, which can be accessed by them and their parents. The e-portfolio holds the student’s entire work and comments from teachers, measuring the child’s performance against key learning outcomes from the New Zealand curriculum, says Syddall. In a month’s time the e-portfolios will also hold video content of the students, for example singing or performing a play.

Every child also has its own customised environment with access to different “windows” of the system, depending on what groups the child belongs to, for example the basketball team or the chess team, says Amit Zamirly, the external project manager who built the system. Every student also has their own schedule with merged calendar and homework information, created by the teachers.

Last year, the Kadimah College board created a vision of what it wanted the outcomes of the project to be. Zamirly went on a three month research trip to Israel, the US and Australia to see what was “cutting edge” and what was available, but he couldn’t find a system that could meet all of the requirements of the school’s vision. So the school and Zamirly built one themselves.

The vision is not just about now, it is also very much a future vision, says Ed Saul, who is a member of the school’s board and former CIO of insurance company Tower. It is about investigating what technologies are available now and can be plugged into the system, as well as looking at what infrastructure the school will need in the years to come, he says.

In addition to developing the software, the school also had to purchase all physical infrastructure, because it only had five computers. In a way, the clean slate created an opportunity, says Saul.

“The fact that we were so far behind other schools created an opportunity to take one giant leap forward and go to the forefront,” he says.

For example, all of the school’s new computers are Vista-compatible.

A big part of the project is about developing content for the e-learning programme and making sure that the programme meets the needs of the students and the wider community, says Syddall. The school’s student body is made up of both Jewish and non-Jewish students and for this reason it was important for the school to provide support for students and parents when it comes to subjects such as Hebrew or Jewish traditions, she says.

“One of the first things we did was to work with the Hebrew and Jewish studies department to develop e-learning lessons so that students and parents could feel supported in their learning in their home environment,” she says.

The students think the system is “cool”, and the school’s staff have also embraced it, although some were a bit sceptical in the beginning, says Syddall. Initially, there was fear of being out of one’s depth and that the new system would lead to additional work for the teachers, she says. But as the teachers started to see the value of the system, and the excitement of the children,

“everyone has come onboard”.

Kadimah College has now become a 24 hour workplace, she says. Teachers, parents and students can access the system anytime.

“It has taken the walls of the school away,” she says.

There is no need for teachers to stay at the school after hours — they can do the same tasks remotely as they would from their office desk, she says.

The project — Syddall did not disclose its worth — was made possible by a donation from the Raye Freedman Trust.

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