Teaching Them a Lesson or Two, Online

New service provides English-speaking students in Israel with real-time help

Baruch Eckman, 14, is generally a strong student but recently he was stuck with a particular question while studying for a Bible exam. Friends suggested to his parents Benjamin and Naomi Eckman, who moved from New Jersey to Hashmonaim in 2007, to go on the Internet and sign their son up for Tomorrow's Genius, a new online tutoring platform specifically designed to help Anglo students in Israel.

"His Hebrew is pretty good, he just needed some extra attention," Naomi Eckman said. "He just needed some backup before the test to give him more confidence - confidence is half the battle."

Aryeh Eisenberg - Emil Salman
Emil Salman

"There's a great deal of tutoring services in our community, but we find the pricing there [at Tomorrow's Genius] much more affordable," her husband added. "It's convenient; you can log on and be active right away. You don't have to wait for a tutor to come."

Officially launched on January 2, Tomorrow's Genius offers students online access to tutors for all different subjects, as well as a resource library of educational material such as an online Hebrew dictionary or a list of mathematical terms in Hebrew and English. Nearly 300 students have signed up on tomorrowsgenius.com and started working with the professional tutors, all of whom are bilingual, a company official told Anglo File.

"Our main product is instant help - we are able to connect students to educational professionals or tutors within about 15 seconds," said Aryeh Eisenberg, Tomorrow's Genius's director of education. "[Students] are not tied to tutoring sessions that may only happen once or twice a week, or to their parents' schedules," said Eisenberg, a Modi'in resident who arrived from New Jersey two years ago. "So let's say the student meets with the tutor on Mondays but the test is on a Thursday. And Wednesday there are all sorts of questions. Well, that tutor isn't going to be available," he added. Teachers on Tomorrow's Genius are available every day from 3:00 P.M. to 10:00 P.M.

The new company run by Anglo immigrants has 12 tutors on staff, while about 10 others work on a need basis. Tomorrow's Genius is based in Jerusalem's Technology Park, but tutors work from home. For NIS 50 per month a student receives 10 online tutoring sessions, with each session lasting as long as a student needs help. Unlimited access to the system costs NIS 150.

It works by having students log in, select the subject they want to work on and enter the appropriate chat room. They can then send a message to the tutor they have been paired up with.

"I asked a bunch of Civil War questions," said eleventh-grader Rivka Greenspan, who moved to Israel from California with her family in 1997. After attending Israeli schools for eight years, Greenspan switched to being home schooled. "I find the Israeli system not so helpful for me," she told Anglo File. "I learn online, so I use Tomorrow's Genius mostly for when I have assignments. I really enjoyed using it."

Tomorrow's Genius is the brainchild of Sanjay Sharnah, a non-Jewish American finance professional in New Jersey who a few years ago created an outsourcing company called Green Point, which employs 120 American-born professionals living in Israel.

"Israel is a country with a strong intellectual and educational capacity," said Sharna, who fell in love with Israel in 1988 when he came here as part of an academic program and worked at Kibbutz Hanita. "Some of the best figures in worldwide education have Jewish roots. When I saw that the educational system and process needed a radical transformation, Israel was a natural place to find talent and expertise," he said.

"Since a large part of education is communication, we wanted to design a platform that combines subject matter and curriculum, and that uses cutting edge technology," Sharna said of the idea behind Tomorrow’s Genius. “This enables the education process to become more enjoyable and economical.” Some, like Josie Arbel, the head of absorption service at the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, are not yet convinced learning in a virtual classroom can replace the personal relationship a student has with a face-to-face tutor.

“They’re very serious, they have beta-tested very responsibly from what I can see,” Arbel told Anglo File, adding that Tomorrow’s Genius had a launch event at AACI’s Jerusalem headquarter. “The question is going to be whether parents want this method of getting help. It’s low cost, which is amazing. But it’s a very different kind of assistance than having a private tutor and I can’t really see it yet.”

Parents whose children have difficulties hire tutors because the style of instruction in the classroom doesn’t suit their children’s learning style, she added. “So you customize the learning for your kid’s needs. I can’t tell to what extent online tutoring will be customized to the individual learning style of different kids.”

The South African Zionist Federation ‏(Israel‏), known as Telfed, on the other hand, is enthusiastic about the new company. “Telfed is constantly on the lookout for innovative ways to enable school-going olim [immigrants] to better adjust to their new Israeli scholastic environment,” chairman Maish Isaacson told Anglo File. “The ‘chat’ medium is a favorite channel of communication among youth today. Correctly utilizing this technological tool will hopefully assist the students with their challenging studies in Israel."

Tomorrow’s Genius client Benjamin Eckman − Baruch’s father goes a step further in support of e-tutoring. “Our children know technology better than we do. They may penetrate the [material] better learning interactively through the computer, rather than in a classroom setting. So this might be a little bit better in terms of their method of grasping information,” he said.

Eckman, a lawyer, added: “There’s nothing better and more casual than sitting at your own computer and being relaxed when you learn rather than being all cramped up. You’re comfortable with your environment; it makes things so much easier.”