Ruhama notes that "despite all the difficulties the Ethiopian olim have today, it is somewhat easier for them since there are more Ethiopian teachers and liaisons than in the past. |
Clearly comfortable in the busy atmosphere of Mevassseret Zion's well-equipped computer room, made possible by a generous donation of the Memphis Jewish Federation, Mola Msgano observes his young daughter, Mintamir, as she skillfully uses the computer mouse to pop balloons with Hebrew letters that match the words on the screen. Audio instructions are given in Amharic. "This is the only time during the week that I have quality time with my daughter without the distraction of my other children," Mola beams with delight.
Mola and Mintamir, Ethiopian immigrants who live in the Mevasseret Zion Absorption Center, participate in Etgarim ("Challenges"), a course given to recent Ethiopian olim in absorption centers throughout Israel and supported by the Jewish Agency. Etgarim was created by Compedia, an Israeli producer and developer of "edutainment" and educational software for global retail and educational markets.
Currently in its fourth year, Etgarim started when Dvora Gini-Melki, a Jewish Agency employee in the Immigration Department, approached Compedia to translate its educational software into Amharic in order to help prepare Ethiopian children for first grade. "We then decided to develop a course and adapted eleven of our programs for Ethiopians," says Ron Mazal-Tov, project director of Compedia. "Curriculum development expert Aviva Gitaeit of Bar Ilan University developed the content of the programs. In addition to careful translation, the programs are user-friendly. We added booklets, warm-up activities, lesson plans and teacher training." Compedia brings laptops every week to absorption centers that have no computer labs.
The multi-level course is geared for preschoolers and students in the first and second grades. A more advanced course develops creative thinking. The 25-session course covers phonological awareness, writing, reading, vocabulary, as well as basic motor skills such as using scissors and holding a pencil correctly. Software programs dealing with nature and science are reinforced with hands-on experiments.
One of Etgarim's goals is to bridge the gap between Ethiopian children and their Israeli peers. Children gain the knowledge and tools required to make them feel on a par with their classmates, thus enhancing their self-confidence and motivating them toward success during their years of study and beyond. Research of Bar Ilan University educators has found that their scholastic achievements reach those of Israeli students.
The interaction between parents and children in Etgarim strengthens parental authority which often slackens when children return from school with skills their parents lack.|
The interaction between parents and children in Etgarim strengthens parental authority which often slackens when children return from school with skills their parents lack. During the absorption process, Ethiopian parents often feel that they have lost their authority and sometimes even their dignity. Therefore, the first two Etgarim sessions are given only to parents, with children joining the third session. This way parents are more comfortable with the computer. "I'm learning here together with my daughter the same material that she's learning," says Mola, who is pleased with her progress. A preschooler, Mintomar already reads Hebrew. Parents also learn the importance of their involvement during a child's schooling.
Compedia hires veteran Ethiopians as instructors, thus providing employment and a rewarding experience. They become a role model like Ruhama Malasa, an ulpan teacher and Etgarim instructor at the Mevasseret Zion Absorption Center. She was only seven when she trekked through the Sudan in 1984 during Operation Moses with her mother and brother. She served in National Service and graduated from the David Yellin College of Education in Jerusalem. Ruhama notes that "despite all the difficulties the Ethiopian olim have today, it is somewhat easier for them since there are more Ethiopian teachers and liaisons than in the past. Veteran Ethiopians understand the mentality of the new olim."
"If we invest in the Ethiopian olim and provide them with opportunities, we'll see the returns, since they have a quick grasp of the material," says Compedia CEO Gil Ilutowich and one of its founders. "Hopefully, with a program like Etgarim they will eventually go to university. Education is the key to success."