The recent Bimat Mandel (Mandel Platform) event,
“Educators in the Middle: Between Academia and the Field,” explored the questions of how to make academic research more relevant for practitioners and how best to bridge the gap between academia and practice. These questions were addressed by four panel members who grapple with them in their day-to-day work.
“From the perspective of policy-makers, research is relevant if it influences practice. If a research study has no answers for the here and now, it’s not relevant. Policy-makers are under pressure and have to solve crises, so what interests them is whether research findings can be implemented or not,” said
Dr. Shimshon Shoshani, former director-general of the Ministry of Education. According to Shoshani: “All research is conducted within the context of the researcher’s value system and ideology… During the first two decades of Israel’s existence there was a general consensus regarding ideology. For the last 30 years, no such consensus has existed.”
Or Kashti, journalist and
Ha’aretz correspondent on education and social affairs, believes that “relevant research addresses problems that concern us all… but in a way that changes reality, rather than simply embracing it.” Kashti also spoke about the nature of the relationship between the establishment and academia. “This relation, a dangerous symbiosis between educational researchers and the Ministry of Education, has left us bereft of more critical researchers. When the Ministry of Education commissions a research study, how even-handed and uncompromising can the researchers be? The control that the ministry wields by commissioning researchers is an excellent tool for silencing them.”
Dr. Shirley Avrami, director of the Knesset Research and Information Center, claims that it is translation that makes information relevant - that is, translation of research language into the language of policy-makers. “If academics want to write a relevant research study, they must understand the needs of the client… The process of writing a research study at the Research and Information Center is a collaborative one, and includes a stage of aligning expectations [with policy-makers].”
Prof. Yehuda Bar-Shalom, head of the School of Education and Society at the Ono Academic College, chose to emphasize the emotional aspect. “Emotion guides us far more than rationality. We need to know how to tell the ‘story’ of the research study. However great the researcher’s passion for the subject, if he can’t tell his story well, none of it will make a difference. He needs to distill the singular, individual story of the study and use it to relate the larger narrative.”
Following the panel discussion, several breakout sessions were held, led by graduates of the Mandel Scholars in Education program and the Mandel School for Educational Leadership. These sessions discussed the relevancy of research findings and how these findings play out in a range of educational issues in Israel: educational-technological policy; attitudes to the “other” and the teaching of Jewish studies in schools; ethnicity and social class in schools; mapping and characterizing the voices of pupils in class debates; helping dyslexic adults learn to read; and the influence of research on overall policy design and practice.
“The question perhaps is not what makes research relevant, but what makes a researcher relevant. Something within the researcher herself, her training, her values orientation, the way she looks at reality. It’s important to start thinking about who the relevant researcher is. Who is the researcher who is able to consider the meaning of his actions, the aims of his research?” said
Dr. Ayman Agbaria, the head of the Mandel Scholars in Education at the Mandel Leadership Institute, in his concluding remarks. “This is an issue that has to do with academic freedom, and of course it is also a political issue. To what extent do academic institutions allow researchers to exercise that freedom?”
Dr. Eli Gottlieb, director of the Mandel Leadership Institute and vice president of the Mandel Foundation-Israel, spoke about the different types of research studies. “You need to know what kind you’re writing,” he said. “What can really make a difference to the relevance of a study is thinking in advance about which of these genres will be most influential and which will be most useful for those who might take advantage of it.”
The Mandel Platform is a forum that seeks to enrich the dialogue within the Mandel community and among the public at large through encounters with leading researchers, thinkers, policy-makers and practitioners. The Platforms address fundamental subjects with great consequences for life in Israel and for Israeli society: education and community; economy and society; the army and the state; and the ultra-Orthodox community.