We usually tend to think of learning as a means to an end, i.e. learning medicine to become a doctor, etc. But in some areas of the world, learning has a very different function in addition to that.

One of these areas is South Israel whose citizens have been under rocket attacks by Islamic fundamentalists for twelve years. Only recently, due to Israel’s military response has this issue returned to the front pages of newspapers and websites, but the problem has always been there.

Students in Sderot waiting out a rocket attack (source)

These people and their children live in constant dread of the next air raid siren going off, interrupting their work, daily schedule and school, only to run to a bomb shelter. In some cities people have 45 seconds, in others they have less than 20 seconds to secure themselves before the rocket impacts.

Even when there is a rare week without an attack, the possibility of yet another run to the shelter lingers constantly in the back of the mind. How do people deal with this situation and go on about their daily business without succumbing to pure hysteria? Ynet published an article recently that describes how children and parents relate to this constant threat.

“When I do my homework I do not forget the alarm, but it’s more comforting me”

This week, like many weeks before, schools in southern cities such as Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheba had to be closed due to terrorist attacks on public schools. Shachar, a fifth grader in Be’er Tuvia says what she misses most are her friends, because most children are afraid to leave the house.

Sitting at home, close to bomb shelters, parents try to occupy their children with video games, board games and television, but these activities are limited, says Shachar’s mother. Teachers stay in contact with students and send them worksheets and tasks via email which the students can print and solve at home.

Omer, a fourth-grader says that these activities help him cope with the terrifying situation during the rocket barrages. “When I do my homework I don’t forget the alarm, but it’s comforting me,” he says. “But when I communicate to my friends I miss them and want to go back to school.”

a school in Ashkelon that was struck by a missile from Gazan radicals (source)

“Return to fun, pencil and eraser”

For older students who are preparing for exams, closed schools mean a loss of precious time. Aviad Shamriz, a grade school senior is currently preparing for a big history exam. “There is a lot of material and every day we are not going to school is a big loss for us,” he says, “I read the study material, answer the questions and practice.”

Teachers also try to keep in touch with students in these tense days. A teacher at a school in Ashdod corresponds via the Internet with her class every day and even talks to them on the phone every other day. “One student wrote to me that she makes costumes from her parent’s closet and every day dresses up as something else. Another student wrote she makes lemon juice. The answer vary, but there’s a very important value that they return to fun, pencil and eraser. “

Real-Time Live Lessons In Emergency Situations

In the meantime, the Beersheba municipal Ministry of Education yesterday morning launched the first system of its kind in Israeli schools which enables the synchronized transfer of live online lessons. Students will now be able to sit at home and participate in real-time lessons, during which both teacher and classmates can see and hear each other and engage in discussion. Besides the live video and audio, teachers employ whiteboards that allow them to display images and write things down which each one of the students can see. In the light of success of this first pilot project, the municipality has decided to implement the project throughout the city.

In the mornings virtual meetings are being held between teachers and school administrators to learn the system. It is estimated that by the beginning of next week, students all over Beersheba, a city with a population of 194,300, will be able to participate in real-time lessons from home, if there’s a need. The Deputy Mayor and Commissioner of Education, said: “The city of Beersheba is glad about the opportunity to expand educational opportunities, and allow personal contact and also safe learning routines during emergency situations.”