New schools in Jerusalem challenge traditional education system

The bell does not ring, there is no traditional classroom, homework is not given and there are no tests or grades.

All these sound like a dream to many school kids; but for 130 children in Jerusalem, this is reality.

They are enrolled in the Sudbury School located in the city. Together with eight staff members, not teachers, they are implementing their belief that the traditional education with classrooms and tests is not effective.

The school was founded in 2002, based on an American model created in the late 1960s.

“I was looking for an educational system that would be child-centered, not teacher-centered … that would encourage students’ natural development so that they can continue with curiosity,” said Yehudit Ben Or, one of the founders of the school.

As a mother of five children, she thought nowadays education system is “outdated and inadequate.”

The leading principle of Sudbury schools is that students are the center and naturally choose their education.

The idea was that children should learn at their own pace and volition and not be forced to study things or conform with what is dictated by the ministry of education.

Other than mandatory attendance for five hours a day and several duties they must do in rotation, children are not obliged to do anything in the new schools.

“We call our type of education ‘self-directed education,’ learning through discovery. Every child here is responsible for their own education,” said Ben Or.

The buildings of the schools are rarely quiet. Children play freely in the designated areas, eat when they want or go into small rooms to study whatever they choose.

Young children are playing with toys and older children experimenting with cameras; boys playing ping pong and girls learning how to play the drums … Some choose to read, others socialize, learning things as the day progresses.

It’s not all fun or games though. The children and the staff run the school together and are considered equal. There is a daily meeting of a judicial committee in which transgressions are discussed and executive decisions are handed down. In the committee, children as young as first grade sit and vote on the decisions together with school staff.

The rules which run the Sudbury schools were created as the first such school was founded.

The students accept the rules naturally. “The beauty about this long list of rules is that it comes from the students, from the school, and from the community, and most of these rules are about mutual respect,” said Yaacov Ben Buman, a student at the school.

But this new model of education has triggered questions over whether there is too much freedom and lack of necessary structure.

“Rules were made here to limit our freedom. Freedom is not conditional on whether I do something, but on whether I can maintain others’ freedom,” said Ori Kaliner, another student.

Moreover, people show more concerns over whether the students in such schools would be properly prepared for adulthood in the real world.

For Noam Revkin Felton, a 25-year-old photojournalist and graduate of the school, the answer is clear cut.

“I think it has prepared me for real life more than any other system, which taught me some knowledge that my friends didn’t have,” Felton said.

The education system has been under criticism in recent years for being outdated and increasingly irrelevant.

The system, in which teachers lecture students who then get tested, is claimed as not suited for everyone and not fit for the modern world. Schools are overpopulated, understaffed and the budget is not sufficient.

“In the traditional school system, children are taught to follow orders. Today’s world of start-ups and technology is not looking for people that just follow orders; it’s looking for people who can think and come up with new ideas,” Ben Or said.

The idea of the school provides children the freedom to explore and fail, also the spirit that leads to innovation and new discoveries.

The Sudbury schools are not largely funded after a prolonged legal battle. But the increasing number of such schools is a signal that more people are eager to prepare their children for the future not through the the old-school way.