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Peres’ presidential mini-MOOC

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Shimon Peres delivers the world's largest civics class, via the Internet. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

Shimon Peres delivers the world’s largest civics class, via the Internet. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

“The Presidential Class” by Cisco was billed as the world’s largest civics class. But it should have been called the world’s largest history class, a living history class.

Israeli President Shimon Peres looked completely at home as, surrounded by monitors and cameras, he taught the 30-minute class Thursday to over 9,000 students in at least 215 high school classrooms throughout Israel. And despite the fact that they saw him on a screen in their own classrooms, I suspect every one of those students felt like he was talking directly to them.

“Each of you has more potential than you realize. If you study you will soon learn your qualities and that you can achieve things you never thought possible,” he told them, more like a father than a teacher.

It was clear that he loves to teach as much as he loves to learn.

“I am a lot older than you, but also at my age people get emotional, as I am now. Seeing you in the classes is a very emotional experience, as is being a teacher, and being a student, as I am today,” he told them, as he marveled at all the technology around him.

He could not see all of the 215 classrooms, but he was able to see at least two – a 12th-grade classroom in Tel Aviv, and an 11th-grade one in the Bedouin town of Kuseife.

Without a prepared text or even notes, Peres spoke about the beginnings of the state, from personal experience. He told his students about making the Negev come to life, in part with his own hands. And he quoted words of wisdom from David Ben-Gurion, things that the country’s first prime minister had said directly to him.

He called Ben-Gurion “my teacher” and imparted what he called the “two secrets of life” to the students.

“Why is being a student so special? Because you gather knowledge, which stays with you. Money comes and goes, but knowledge always remains,” he said.

Peres succeeded in breaking the Guinness World Record for the largest online civics class; the previous record was 5,000. Guinness World Records Senior Vice President Marco Frigatti was on hand to certify the results.

“We immediately liked this new record idea for three reasons: first because talking about civics and talking about democracy is relevant for everybody in the world, and the contribution we make is so important a topic for the young generation,” Frigatti said. “The second important aspect was that we had a special feature, a person who has seen the country from its origins to today and who better to speak to the students? The third part was about the technology, a Web-based solution that can be used within education to keep everyone connected and informed.”

Frigatti  informed Peres that he also has set a second world record: at age 91, he is the oldest serving head of state. But when he gives up his presidency in July, perhaps he will look for a teaching job.

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