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Amal: The Israeli network of vocational schools on the wings of the 21st century

by Gad Nahshon

AMAL (the Hebrew word for labor) is a 70 year old Israeli network of vocational high schools, training schools, programs for adult education, programs for Israeli soldiers, a college, and centers for training of teachers and educators. AMAL, a leading empire in the Israeli field of vocational technological education, in its quest for excellence marches today on the "Wings of the 21st Century." This is a new road, a new crusade which was launched by its new educational leader since 1995, Dr. Haim Iluz-Ayalon. Well, AMAL is currently in the midst of a revolution. It must address a new age of information with its hi-tech syndrome as it attempts to prepare a network of 65,000 students to integrate themselves, their careers, their lives, with their varied socio-economical backgrounds into the next century.

AMAL was born in Israel as early as 1928, an idea which grew within the first Israeli trade union movement. AMAL has a record of many achievements. Then, as now, AMAL has had a mission to the less privileged young Israelis. AMAL has a social message: to help those children in the south and north of Israel from Eilat to Kiriat Shemona, to help many students whose families come from poor neighborhoods, located far away, from the center of power, from the affluent elites, or to help Israel young Olim who are socially weak, help them to be absorbed into the Israel mainstream. AMAL, therefore, is the true and only leverage of these children who later are being drafted into the Israeli army, serving their country's goals. It is not surprising to find that AMAL has many admirers all over the world - The International Friends of AMAL Association. Of course, any American who loves Israel should support this network because he knows that education, a vocational education is a socio-economic ladder for these children. Israel has only one natural resource - The Israeli Mind, a sophisticated working labor force. AMAL's chairman, Dr. Haim Iluz-Ayalon, understands these notions better then anyone else.

Dr. Ayalon is touring North-America in order to mobilize support for AMAL's revolution - the 21st Century Syndrome. One of his major supporters in America is the Israel Humanitarian Foundation or IHF, a non-profit American philanthropic organization which was founded in 1960 by Justice Arthur Goldberg and whose president today is Marvin M. Sirota. Its offices located at 276 Fifth Avenue (Tel: 212-683-5676). This important organization which helps AMAL gave us a chance to meet the chairman Dr. Ayalon.

Ayalon, 45 years old, has a Ph.D. in social work from Yeshiva University. In Israel he was active in the field of social issues and served as a special advisor to Shimon Peres. "I was born in a poor neighborhood in Jerusalem and I have been aware about the existence of the under privileged classes inside Israeli society. My family is from Morocco. A few years ago, I went into business. I was happy. But in 1995, I left it for this mission, to revolutionize AMAL so that every student will have a chance like everyone else. I have a commitment to achieve in AMAL a high standard of educational quality and excellence coming into the 21st century. We have 130 institutions and I am aware of the hardships of dealing with this reality. I have a team of 5000 teachers and workers who are dedicated to fulfill the mission, to accomplish our goals," said Dr. Ayalon. He remarked, "We have 20% of Olim from Russia and Ethiopia in our network. We must acculturate them. These students are great in science. Also 20% of our students are non-Jewish which includes Arabs, Druze, and others. By the way, we try through education to develop relations with Palestinian and Jordanian students. We have many challenges since we are so active among Olim and among the students from small towns such as Kiriat Malachy, in the south of Israel. But my goal is to provide them with the best modern new education regardless of their less advantageous background." It should be noted that AMAL received international recognition. AMAL, through the U.N.'s network was asked to provide ideas and assistance to African countries and even to China, in the field of vocational education. Dr. Ayalon, also, told us with pride that AMAL has a college located in Beer Tuvia, in the south. The college, or "Achva Academic College" (in English - The University of Brotherhood), has a B.A. program, a special crown to this network. Achva has a college of education, a center for teachers training, program of the Board of Education, pre-academic preparatory courses, academic division and also a center for gifted and talented children. This college has ties with Ben-Gurion University in the Negev. But as we stressed the most important goal of AMAL is to build the network of the 21st century through a total revolution of its concept of education. What is the essence of this revolution. Dr. Ayalon explained to us, "We are trying to build a model system in which the student is at the center and ready to make educations decisions. In order to achieve this goal, AMAL network invests considerable resources in the development of computer and computerized communication technologies, while placing the emphasis on the development of diversified learning methods and on specialized training for faculty. Additionally, organization and administration are being streamlined and made more effective so as to advance and improve the educational activities of the network.

This diversified range of endeavors has created a fabric of activities noted for its innovation, which has established AMAL as the undisputed national leader in the field of learning through computerized communication and advanced, scientific, high-tech curricular programs.

70 years of diversified, innovative educational-vocational activity are the guarantee for the continued realization of the network's vision in the future as well. The school principals, faculties and administrative workers, as well as the students and their parents are all devoted to the realization of this vision.

Dr. Ayalon noted that the revolution first means the teachers. Many of them had to be trained for the new Internet-computerized education of our global village of the next century. The teachers must adjust themselves to the new Internet and a system of learning with computers to each student and without the old time class education. Dr. Ayalon explained that the teachers of the next century will be only matchmakers between the student who will use the Internet to find his material and the goals of modern education. Dr. Ayalon noted, "It has been, always, hard to find good teachers especially in the poor neighborhoods of Israel. For example, it is hard to find good English teachers. So, in these areas, the computer is a salvation, a great solution for the lack of good teachers.

Suddenly, thanks to the computer and the Internet, our students feel that they are part of the mainstream and not just forgotten children in Israel. Indeed, the role of the teacher, the classical one, is changing. And with some difficulty, we have to retrain them. As it is typical to Israel, most of ourteachers are females. We try to improve their status and income," remarked Dr. Ayalon, the dynamo of AMAL's revolution. He also pointed out the tools of his revolution - Amalnet, a computerized communications network for AMAL's school.

In keeping with the ongoing trend toward increased utilization of computers and computerized communications networks in learning, the AMAL network is taking steps to bring its schools into the era of computerized communications environments. The establishment of Amalnet, a unique computerized communications network encompassing AMAL schools, students, teachers, the Pedagogical Technological Center, and eventually other schools in Israel and abroad, is expected to significantly raise the quality of teaching and learning in Israel. The project aims to foster changes in the teaching process, transforming the teacher from the role of the conveyor of knowledge, to that of advisor, guiding and stimulating students in their quest for knowledge.

The Amalnet computerized communications project includes a central information Website linked to a virtual library (under construction), as well as to school-based sites. This unique project will include the preparation of learning materials in Hebrew for use by teachers and students, in keeping with existing curricula and in cooperation with school staff.

Educational Initiatives and Teaching Team Development: A project for the development of new educational environments is already underway in a number of AMAL schools, whereby teams of advisors work within the existing system to initiate changes in the way the schools operate. Initially, the advisors begin the process in one or two classrooms in the school, gradually bringing about the desired transition throughout the system.

The project concept is based on five basic principles, as conceived by a team from Joint Israel:

  1. Team work. The class' teaching staff works as an interdisciplinary team, coordinating learning processes in participating classrooms.

  2. Multi-faceted knowledge of students. The teaching team knowledge and understanding of the students: their abilities, problems, behavior, attention span, learning difficulties, etc.

  3. Personalized work plan for each student. The teaching team develops personalized program for each student, according to his/her individual needs, and in keeping with the official classroom curricula.

  4. Integration of computers and advanced technologies in the physical learning environment. The learning environment is characterized by a variety of computer work stations, which facilitate a wide range of learning activities, and are designed to accommodate individuals, teams or large groups. Computer aided instruction helps learners cope with the low attention span and discipline problems often associated with the low achievers. In addition, computer use often increases student motivation and overall interest in the learning process.

Adult Education - AMAL with its historical linkages to the Israeli Trade Union movement (Histadruth) and historical moral commitment to the well being and progress of the Israeli working class has provided vocational education each year to 20,000 students, often with the cooperation of the various ministries of the Israeli government such as the Labor Ministry. AMAL's record is impressive. AMAL Achievements is Israel's leading provider of technological training for adults, offering hundreds of specialized training and retraining courses for adults, designed to meet the needs of the unemployed, recently discharged soldiers, and new immigrants. The courses aim to provide the adult student with professional skills commensurate with the demands of the employment market.

The PTC is the leading developer of computerized databases and computerized communications in Israel's school system. The "Educational CD-ROM" was developed by the PTC for the Ministry of Education in 1992, and the PTC was active in implementing its use in approximately 150 schools which participated in the pilot project. Training was provided for teaching staff, as well as on-going technical and pedagogical support.

The PTC's computerized information center continues to systematically survey worldwide information sources and to produce computerized databases on scientific, technological and academic subjects, with nine Hebrew-language CD-ROMs currently available for use in Israel's schools. The center also produces a number of Hebrew-language periodicals, aimed at keeping teachers and professionals apprised of developments in their respective fields.

AMAL Network, its chairman, Dr. Ayalon, its staff and leadership, its friends in Israel, its friends abroad such as IHF in New York, held the torch of a blessed revolution. We should support them all. They are educating those Israelis who, like Atlas, will carry on their shoulders the well being of Israel in the next century. They are responsible for the survival of the Israeli civilization, the Israeli mind, the Israeli hi-tech plants, the industry, and the future of the Israeli labor force is in their hands. But AMAL also is a network which educates students to cherish values of humanity, brotherhood, and the non-stop quest for social justice in Israel.

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