Digital Cities: Technology, Leadership, and Education


An innovative MA programme at the Educational Technology Unit, Haifa University



About a year ago the University of Haifa received a request from Dani Gildin and Samia Basoul - the heads of the education departments in Nazereth and Nazereth Illit - to help them build a professional body which will take on the challenge of transforming the educational scenery in these cities. Nazareth is the largest city in the northern district of Israel, and the largest Arab city in Israel. Nazareth Illit is a neighboring (predominantly) Jewish city. While there are close ties between the two, the relationship between them is complex. 

The trigger for the joint appeal to the university was the “Digital Cities” initiative: a recent upgrade of the technological infrastructure in the two cities, following the 2006 Lebanon war. Cisco, who was a central contributor to the “Digital Cities” drive, identified a need to establish local leadership who would be able to take advantage of the technology and realize its social and educational potential. 

The educational technology unit at the University of Haifa faculty of education was founded five years ago and since then has established its place as a leader in training of high-profile academics and professionals in the field. The head of the unit, Dr. Dani Ben-Zvi, immediately welcomed the new initiative, identifying an opportunity to disseminate the state of the art technological and pedagogical knowledge of the university staff where it is most needed, contributing to deep and sustainable social change. Thus, a unique partnership was formed between the local and national education authorities, academia, and Cisco - a leader in the research, development and deployment of technological infrastructures. This partnership was joined by the Peres Peace Centre, who identified its potential in healing the tense relationships between the three religions represented in the two Cities. After a careful process 23 candidates were selected from both cities, and have recently started their studies - with high hopes and endless motivation.

Cisco’s Zika Abzuk and Orgad Lootsky, through their long-standing involvement in the Neta project, was instrumental in forging the connections between the partners. Cisco also contributed resources (financial and technical) to help provide the participants the best possible educational experience. Along with the municipalities and the ministry of education, Cisco is committed to giving the graduates the conditions they need to implement the knowledge they acquire and put it to practice in innovative social and educational initiatives. Such initiatives will offer the residents of the two cities unprecedented opportunities to expand their knowledge and their possibilities in employment, self-fulfilment and social interactions. 

The programme highlights the collaboration between the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities in a joint quest for a better future. The academic programme, which maintains the high standards of the University of Haifa, is supplemented by an extra-curricular programme aimed at developing participants leadership skills. Both the academic and the extra-curricular programmes are based on novel pedagogical models and make extensive use of collaborative technologies - so that the participants experience the underlying messages of the programme in every day of their studies. The academic programme promises clear practical directives built on sound theoretical foundations. We are confident that it will serve as a model for other communities, both in Israel and in other places.
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