Although there aren't that many Sunday Schools (to my knowledge) in London, in the Diaspora as a whole there are just as many Jewish kids in Sunday Schools as in the day school system, and the Sunday School is certainly stronger outside of the large communities. As day school tuition rises -- and as Jews move out of the big towns because they are too expensive -- there are a number of people who are predicting the return of the Sunday School. The question is, a few decades after it went out of fashion, can the Sunday School / Cheder be made to work again?
- Most Sunday Schools schools are still run on a much more amateur level than most day schools. The teachers and often the administrators are volunteers like me, with plenty of good will but little or no teacher training.
- While money (not enough, but money) is being directed at the day school system, I'm not sure that the same kind of money is going towards the Sunday Schools.
- A problem I've personally encountered -- the lack of good teaching materials. There are about a thousand books for teachers on the chaggim, mitzvot, Israel etc. but few of them are actually any good (the exception seems to be Hebrew). As I understand it, this is really a problem in the day school system as well -- and the market is so fragmented that the chances of a really good, systematic curriculum and materials ever emerging are slim.
- Most importantly, the perrennial problem of Sunday School education -- with so little time, what do you teach -- skills, knowledge or spirit? And can anything meaningful be accomplished in so little time?
These are, of course, similar problems to the ones experienced 30-40-odd years ago, however, in the interim, I believe two thing have changed, and those are parental commitment and the Jewish community's attitude to Jewish education in general. True, many of kids going to Sunday School are still there for complex reasons (parents can't be bothered to give them Jewish education themselves, it assauges guilt, promised the grandparents etc. etc. etc.) and as a result, many of the parents don't take Sunday School as seriously as they should -- but, as the rise in Jewish education in general shows, parents today are more interested in their children's Jewish education and I know that many of the kids in my class, for example, come from knowledgable and committed families. The Jewish community, too, is more committed to educating its kids in more inventive and creative ways than before. How can we harness these factors to make a success of the Sunday School this time round?
- Educate the teachers. The Sunday School where I teach is encouraging its teachers to attend a formal year-long course (one evening a week) in teaching skills. It's also encouraging them to attend specially-organised Torah learning classes so that their own Jewish knowledge is developed. Both good ideas, especially the former.
- Parental involvement. This is key, as we all know that the real education takes place at home and that for the Jewish education to be a success, the parents must be into it. The Sunday Schools should try and get the parents involved as much as possible, through activity days they can participate in with their kids, getting parents to help out in the school, etc.
- No magic bullet. Since it's so hard to give these kids skills, knowledge and spirit in this one framework, Sunday School must be seen as part of a package which might include camp, Israel programmes (later on), youth groups etc. The Sunday Schools should be promoting these options heavily -- this did not happen, for example, in the Sunday School I taught in in Toronto, which, although Orthodox, was independent and not affiliated to any specific camp or youth group. And the community should be encouraging the parents to think in this way too.
- The Internet. Cheap and easy way for dissemination of good teaching materials specifically for Sunday Schools, which is simply not being properly utilized at the moment.
Any other ideas?