Our Story — Building an Elementary School for the Digital Age.
This week, as our team celebrates the successful launch of our Digital Summer School (and really, the birth of bina!), we’d like to tell you the story of how our school came into existence. Think of it as story time. 📚
Also, we’re a school, so we don’t do anything without sneaking in a little learning. This story will be told following a simplified version of the classic literary template of The Hero’s Journey, seen in mythologies ranging from The Odyssey to Moby Dick to Star Wars.
The Ordinary World
Noam Gerstein was 26 years old and had just successfully sold her first business in Israel. She was bursting with energy and ready to take on a new challenge. Noam was a passionate activist, having spent years fighting for human rights; working to open free clinics and fighting for prisoner and detainee medical rights. She knew in her core that it was her social duty to leave this world better than she entered it, and therefore her next business needed not just to be relevant, but deeply impactful.
But… where to start? With so many ways to make a positive impact in the world, the options were overwhelming, but Noam began thinking about the structure of cultures we live in, and what crucial touchpoints can make the biggest and most sustainable ripples towards society as a whole.
It became clear to her after a year of examining the verticals that early education is the root of our society, and has the potential to affect the greatest number of lives. In the short term, providing accessible education impacts children and their primary caregivers, and in the long term creating a society of well-adjusted, carefully-educated citizens. Taking this notion a step further, Noam wanted to find a solution that would enable parents (and in particular working mothers) to spend as much time as possible with their children without sacrificing their careers.
Make no mistake — Her next venture was far from fully-formed at this point. She sought to find existing educational institutions which offered this adaptability, and to improve upon them in whatever way possible.
The Call to Adventure
The quest was on.
The options out there were staggering in number, yet underwhelming in suitability. While there were a plethora of excellent schools out there for all types of families, this quest for a geographically flexible yet completely comprehensive elementary yielded few results, and certainly none that felt right.
The more Noam pursued a fitting solution, the conundrum pretty quickly became clear: Schooling as we know it addresses the needs of yesterday’s societies, societies in which highly-structured, brick-and-mortar, mass-produced educational models made perfect sense. Although these schools may certainly offer quality education, they simply don’t fit with the fluid way we live our lives today. There have been some incremental advances in the schooling system at large, but it became clear that nobody so far had dared to take the leap to a full systematic change to how education is approached.
At its core, education needs to serve 2 purposes: To reflect the society in which we live, and to prepare our children to participate in it. Education today does not reflect the society of today, and therefore ill-equips our children for the world of tomorrow.
Let’s re-frame it this way: As adults, our work is no longer tied to a physical location. This pandemic (more on that later) and our global shift towards working from home means that work, stripped down, is really a set of responsibilities: no longer a mandatory 8 hours per day in a desk in a cubicle in an office building a 35-minute commute from your home.
Our work can adapt, and has adapted, to our modern lives.
Why can’t education adapt too?
The path of Noam’s life was altered, the course was set and the task was at hand was very clear. She spent the next 6 years undertaking intensive, on-the-ground research around the world. From Asia and North America to Europe and Australia (New Zealand too!), Noam made it her mission to collect as much data about elementary education as possible.
She sat in on classes, studied various learning techniques, chatted with students and interviewed educators, parents, administrators, policymakers. The challenge ahead was to craft a complete, comprehensive educational and pedagogical solutionc which was based on data, which fills a clear need, and gives parents the freedom to keep their families together, not having to choose between career and family.
In a nutshell: A school that very honestly reflects today’s society, and prepares our children to survive and thrive in it.
Noam worked with top educators to hammer out an ideal pedagogical model that would fit just right to this vision. Along the way, we picked up our Chief Academic Officer John Hall (who has opened a number of successful schools and now studies schooling systems), who worked tirelessly alongside to bring this vision even further towards fruition. Chief Technical Officer Zach Bowen joined the team in early 2020, bringing with him a deep well of knowledge on innovative technologies, mathematics, and education.
We named our budding school bina — meaning “wisdom” in Hebrew; the greatest gift we can hand down to our children.
The Abyss & Transformation
As you may gather from everything you’ve read thus far, bina was originally created as an alternative educational solution which would be a better fit for the 21st century family. Not only was bina able cut through the financial inefficiencies of a traditional school (with tuition being used primarily for teachers rather than real estate & admin), but we also figured it would be a perfect fit for the needs of internationally-minded families — Expats, digital nomads, normal nomads, families who need to relocate for a plethora of reasons. This was our initial target user base for bina.
Then… the Pandemic happened. The world was shaken, and the schooling world right along with it. Millions of children worldwide were sent home in the middle of the school day to parents who were speechless and unprepared to suddenly homeschool their little ones. Schools scrambled to provide an adequate emergency remote-teaching solution which would attempt to approximate the learning environment of the classroom. However, even with limited resources, no specialized training, and an unclear idea of the task and timeline at hand, teachers tried their absolute best to keep student’s heads above water. To all you rockstar teachers out there who have been faced with this tsunami — we applaud your intensive and valiant efforts to make sure our kids don’t fall behind! 👏👏👏
Let’s be real though: The schooling system was radically unprepared for what happened. While children might be receiving emergency remote learning from their schools, this is a vastly different experience than a carefully designed, purpose-built, digital native educational model.
However, despite what is going in the world, we are in a unique position to help. We find ourselves with a gem of an educational model which is bulletproof: sturdy, mobile, adaptable. Flexible. This is exciting for us! How often is one able to provide a perfect-fit solution to an urgent and unforeseen problem? Our children deserve quality learning no matter what, and this is a solution that bina provides.
Our realization was this: bina is not just for internationally-minded families. We aim to one day make bina accessible for every family. We are all safer at home right now, and this includes our children.
Pssst — you still with us on this Hero’s Journey? We followed the call to adventure, we fought challenges and tribulations, we faced the abyss and transformed our mission — and now we come back home armed with our experiences, ready to do our part towards make the world a better place.
Faced with the global catastrophe of the Pandemic, our team decided that the time is now — we needed to take this leap to bring these 6 years of intensive planning to fruition… and it worked! We had our first test-class in the spring, which brought us a wealth of knowledge and feedback on how to build a stronger product. We doubled-up our onboarding efforts and brought in an absolutely ace team of serial entrepreneurs, top academics, tech whizzes, marketing mavericks and incredible teachers. We built an innovative custom learning platform from scratch in a matter of weeks. We built bina, so we can serve you.
Our (digital) schoolhouse has opened its doors! 🏫
bina is the result of a clear mission, a passion, and a drive to simply do better by our children. By providing them with a flexible, comprehensive schooling option, they have more time to spend with their families, more time to play and explore and learn independently, more time to think critically and develop at their own pace. More time to grow into global citizens who will thrive in the world of tomorrow.
Are you ready to join bina? Schedule a call with our friendly admissions team here.
Until next time,
Team bina ❤