On October 1, 2020, the eve of Sukkoth - the Feast of Tabernacles, I took up the position of President of Beit Berl College. My start has been somewhat distant due to the circumstances; but I am slowly beginning to meet with the faculty members, some through Zoom and others at a safe distance and behind a mask, but with an open heart and a lot of desire to listen, learn and do the best, together, for the success of the College.
These are difficult times for all of us. We face great uncertainty in our private, academic and national lives and need support, someone to listen to us and to work jointly with us in order to overcome the obstacles that stand before us – currently and in the future.
There has not been (and hopefully never will be) such a year in the history of the education system. Many claim that the coronavirus revolution is the greatest revolution the education system has ever undergone, in Israel and around the world. The changes that have taken place in the field of education entail challenges and opportunities.
The prevailing opinion is that the education system is a conservative one and as such, difficult to change. I suppose that if they had told us at the beginning of past school year that within a few days the whole system would move to distance learning, we would have reacted with disbelief. The transition has not been easy, the difficulties are piling up, the gaps are widening, and we still have a long way to go - of learning and changing. The tendency of many of us is to focus on the difficulties but I want to divert thought for a moment to the positive processes that have happened.
We learned something about ourselves, and about the teachers we train and educate. We learned that in difficult times we are much more flexible than we think. We know how to learn to adapt quickly and deal with unexpected situations.
A survey in which I participated, conducted by the Taub Institute and the Teachers' Union, among thousands of teachers, taught me something very important. When they had to perform an unexpected task, 90% of the teachers took it upon themselves to teach in a way they were mostly unfamiliar with. When they were in need of help and guidance, most of them turned to their peers and to the people close to them. In difficult and challenging conditions, they showed initiative and resourcefulness, responsibility and an ability to learn, concern for their students and a desire to succeed. We also found these qualities in our faculty members, who enabled the college to change its routines in a fast, efficient and high-quality manner.
If you ask the general public, terms like initiative, resourcefulness, responsibility and efficiency are identified with the high-tech element of Israeli society, rather than with the education system. In the coming years, our goal will be to empower the good qualities that the pandemic has illuminated and turn them into a way of life. To take the qualities that are identified with Israel as a Startup Nation, qualities that give the country international status and prestige, and make them our hallmark.
This is a time of change and creation. On the one hand, we have worlds of knowledge and experience that we have accumulated over many years of work. On the other hand, a wave of changes is forming: some are forced upon us, but they also allow us greater pedagogical freedom, not just on the technological level. The historical role of educators, and especially of teacher educators, is to think together as a community and redraw their role.
The combined forces of the three faculties: the Faculty of Education, the Faculty of Arts - HaMidrasha, and the Faculty of Society and Culture allow us to offer our students and the educational community a wide range of knowledge and skills. As a college, we have an extensive knowledge base, integrated with a long-standing ideological commitment that gives us a unique voice in the field of teaching and research in Israel.
We have a rare opportunity to separate the wheat from the chaff, to understand what is essential, important and unchanging in teacher training (which is quite a lot, in my humble opinion) but also what must change. In this discourse we need to examine ourselves and chart paths for the future. Astonishingly, it seems to me that our superiors in both the Ministry of Education and the Council for Higher Education (CHE) - The Planning and Budgeting Committee (PBC) understand the greatness of the hour and will be ready, more than ever, to lend a hand to change.
Beyond all these, we also have a valuable social role. In a country whose civic and democratic assets are breaking down, where the hostility between the groups that make it up is growing, Beit Berl poses a civic, democratic, and tolerant alternative. A home for all Israeli citizens of all religions and beliefs. I believe that we must preserve and cultivate this vital role, and educate our students to be faithful to- and to uphold -- the values of tolerance and mutual respect.
The tasks are many and I will not list them all in this short message.
I wish us all a good school year and particularly a lot of health, joy and satisfaction in our work.
Prof. Yuli Tamir, President