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Bridging Social and Educational Gaps

I-School was founded at Reichman University (formerly IDC Herzliya) as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the vision of connecting children from the periphery with tutors who would assist them online with their studies

Tamara Mizroch
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From left Ori Knafo, Shira Amir, Alon Vasely,  Dana Harel, Leora Bergwerk, Gal Ashur
From left Ori Knafo, Shira Amir, Alon Vasely, Dana Harel, Leora Bergwerk, Gal AshurCredit: Reichman University
Tamara Mizroch
Promoted Content

Yochai, 11, from Beit-El, returned home from school delighted that he received a perfect score on his test. Amir, 10, from Dimona, received 85, a major improvement from 35 on his previous exam. These stories are just two of dozens of success stories where I-school is making an impact.

How it began

“Our story begins in 2020 with the coronavirus outbreak. Two million students were left overnight without a dependable and secure educational framework. At this point, we asked ourselves how we could help,” explains Dana Harel, 26, one of the founders of I-School. Dana holds an LLB in Law and an MA in Government from Reichman University. During her teenage years, she helped connect young Scouts in central Israel with those in the peripheries. Her work exposed her to the disparities that exist across Israel's regions.

The I-School team approached fellow Reichman students and asked them if they would be willing to tutor online. According to Dana, “the response was amazing; within two weeks we were able to recruit 3,000 tutors who prepared and carried out the online lessons.” 

I-School was officially up and running. They worked to provide “one-on-one” online tutoring for each and every student who needed help with the core subjects of English and Mathematics, geared particularly to students in 4th-6th grades. From the beginning, I-School helped children in difficult home environments. But it also offered some respite to parents who, during the pandemic, had been tasked overnight with becoming their children’s schoolteachers.

Its overarching goal is to help reduce social disparities and provide equal education for all, regardless of economic ability or geographical limitation. I-School strives to continue to expand and reach all corners of the country.  The program is ambitious: it aims to double the number of students in the periphery who receive online tutoring.

The team

Along with Dana, there are five other founders and managers of I-School. Gal Ashur, 31, is currently a Captain in an IDF Reconnaissance Unit and holds a BA in Business Administration and Entrepreneurship from Reichman University. He wants to contribute beyond his army service. “Protecting our country is not enough. It is equally important, if not more so, to take care of the future of our country’s children, and one way is through quality education from a young age,” he believes.

Shira Amir, 26, holds a BA in Government from Reichman University. She grew up in Or Yehuda, where she always felt the social gaps in her local high school and noticed that children who live in the “right” home grow up to be more successful and had more opportunities. She is currently studying towards her MA in Organizational Development, and she has committed to working for I-School in a larger capacity.

For Leora Bergwerk, 26, I-School is about taking responsibility and promoting the values in which she believes. Leora, who grew up in Raanana in a religious home, holds an LLB in Law and a BA in Government from Reichman University. While she works as a manager at PayEm, a Fintech start-up, it is through her volunteer work with I-School that she feels she can help others and practice the values that are most important to her.

Ori Knafo, 29, is the organization’s Growth Development Manager. He holds a degree in Business Administration & Entrepreneurship from Reichman University. Ori works at a start-up as a Security Developer, but it is important to him to also devote his professional knowledge to impact and social development.

Alon Vesely, 27, is highly active in the world of social entrepreneurship. He has an LLB in Law and an MA degree in Government from Reichman University, but he has also managed projects for various NGOs. It is fitting that he serves as I-School’s Volunteer Manager. 

The Adelson School of Entrepreneurship at Reichman UniversityCredit: Courtesy of Reichman University

Freedom and responsibility

I-School's six founders met at Reichman University while studying for their degrees and participating in the Rabin Leadership program. The program's goals are to equip and train students with the tools of leadership and social entrepreneurship. Participants in the program are motivated to spur social change and throughout the one-year program they gain experience as volunteers as well as in management. 

According to Dana, “It was thanks to the innovative and open approach to studying at Reichman University that we were able to dream up this far-fetched idea. The Rabin program also focused our energy on what we felt was important to change.” 

She added, “One in six students at Reichman University are scholarship recipients. Students that would otherwise not have the opportunity are given access to work towards their degrees. This is life changing. This knowledge helped us realize that helping kids from a young age could have a huge impact.” 

In turn, the scholarship students devote their time to tutoring the school children. According to Galit Zvi, Deputy Dean of Students, “Reichman University awards hundreds of scholarships each year on a socio-economic or merit basis. In exchange for receiving a scholarship, the students must volunteer their time for worthwhile projects. As part of this vision, the I-School venture was based on volunteers who are primarily scholarship students who donate thousands of teaching hours to students in the peripheries and thus enable hundreds of children to overcome gaps in core studies.”

Dr Yossi Maaravi, Dean of the Adelson School of Entrepreneurship, says that, for him, “Reichman University is a place where so many of the different schools interconnect – here on campus we don’t work in our separate silos; the interdisciplinary nature of the university allows students that study towards a degree in Government or Entrepreneurship to combine their ideas, and from there we see how a spark occurs, when the concept takes off.”

Jonathan Davis serves as VP of External Relations and Head of the Raphael Recanati International School at Reichman University. It was easy to hear how proud he is of the Reichman alumni: “We do our best to instill values of social responsibility in our students and it’s wonderful and heart-warming to see our students go on to achieve great things.”  

What’s next?

I-School has chosen to focus on areas where there are larger socio-economic gaps. Currently, the organization is working with ten different municipalities and local councils throughout Israel, among them: Yeruham, Dimona, Kfar Qassem, Beit El and Shefar'am – consisting of thousands of volunteers from various academic institutions who want to lead change in the country.  
I-School is tackling head-on a crucial challenge in Israeli society: thousands of students who lack access to private tutoring and personalized education. Research from the Taub Research Center in December 2019 showed that the quality of a student's grades is directly related to receiving individual attention with relevant content.

Dana adds that it’s also about creating social bridges. “What is most exciting are the connections that are made between people from all different sectors of society. The online lessons enable connections between a secular student from Tel Aviv and an ultra-Orthodox student from Beit El, or between a student from the Arab sector and a student from Dimona,” she elaborates.
This year, I-School expects to tutor 15,000 students, almost twice as many as last year.

Live in Israel, Study in English

The Raphael Recanati International School (RRIS) at Reichman University (formerly IDC Herzliya) offers a wide selection of full-degree programs taught entirely in English:

  • BA degrees in Psychology, Business, Business and Economics, Communications, Government, Government and Sustainability, Computer Science, Entrepreneurship and Business, and Entrepreneurship and Computer Science. 
  • Master’s degrees in Government, Financial Economics, Organizational Behavior and Development, and Behavioral Economics, as well as a 1-year MBA, MBA in Healthcare Innovation, and a Global MBA. 

For more information, visit the website or contact 09-9602700.