Israeli Schools Turn to Wikipedia Article Editing for Motivation

The Israeli Education Ministry and Wikipedia are forming an alliance that will enable students to fill in information that is missing on Wikipedia entries.

Lidar Grave’-Lazi, writing for The Jerusalem Post, says that Education Minister Shai Piron and Jon Bart de Vreede, chairman of the Wikipedia Foundation Board of Trustees will collaborate on a program that  will train teachers in the areas of history, geography, and science in order for them to guide their students in editing and adding information to Wikipedia articles.

“It is important for us that the education system in Israel will lead the innovation and collaboration with Wikipedia and provide a wonderful opportunity to think outside the box and allow students in Israel to do things which will also influence others,” Piron said.

This joint effort is the first of its kind and may include having foreign-language students write Wikipedia articles about Israel in their native tongues.

“I am glad to know that Wikipedia in Israel has an open door to the Education Ministry and to the education minister,” said de Vreede. “Israel is currently one of the leading countries in its integration of Wikipedia into education and academia, and I welcome the desire of the education minister to adopt Wikipedia and act together [with] teachers, students and volunteers of Wikipedia to support Wikipedia, the largest free content repository in the world.”

The Jewish Israeli News reports that the education minister called this cooperation with Wikipedia an avenue to meaningful language learning which will be active, constructive, and authentic.  When young people are involved in activities that they perceive as useful in their lives, motivation occurs naturally.

An article in The Jerusalem Post explained that Bavarian Education Minister Dr. Ludwig Spaenle spoke on Monday at the interdisciplinary Center Herzliya Conference in Jerusalem about technology and the future of education.  Spaenle reminded those present that technology should serve as a tool for better education, but should always focus on the human as the center of the educational process.  He continued by saying that higher education in the future will be built around the students’ ability to “sift through the worldwide sea of knowledge and choose the way”.

Dr. Ayelet Ben-Ezer, vice-president for student affairs at the interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, said that Generation Y, those born after 1980, was the most educated group, was deeply knowledgeable of technology, but was narcissistic, and likely to face unemployment more than any other generation.  She added that this group is leaving the humanities behind in favor of degrees that will provide them more financial stability.  Other ideas shared by the educators at the conference were:

  • College and university students are trending toward anti-disciplinary ( for example, philosophy and computer science) study rather than multi-disciplinary ( for example, economics and business administration).
  • Today’s industries are more interested in a student’s “tools and abilities” than they are in their fields of study.
  • Advancing technology should allow teachers to educate in a variety of subjects, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
  • There are fewer teachers with science and technology expertise; fewer students studying science and math; and even fewer pursuing a teaching degree in these areas.
  • The panel discussed the high price of higher education and pointed out that the average college tuition in the US is $42,000 a year.
  • Shai Reshef, founder and president of the University of the People, the world’s first accredited, tuition-free, online university, said that the virtual classroom provides an education to those who otherwise could not afford one.

Meanwhile, in the UK, Professor Orlando Figes, of Birkbeck, University of London, says that college and university students are not reading assigned books, but are taking the shortcut of looking at the highlights of the books on Wikipedia and SparkNotes.  There are students, says Figes, that graduate without reading a single page.  He thinks that students’ attention spans have lessened because of computer games and social media sites.

But, more than that, he believes that students are simply studying to “take the test” and not reading “in ways that advance understanding and knowledge”. This amid claims that students leave school ignorant of the English language because of the large gaps in the UK education system.