Bar-Ilan University Prof. Pnina Klein, winner of the 2011 Israel Prize in Education Research, died on November 27th following a battle with cancer. Prof. Klein, who was 69, oversaw numerous US projects that improved the lives of children at risk.
Her initiatives to revolutionize learning for children with developmental disabilities, including those with autism and Down’s syndrome in the US, was recently featured in an ad produced by the American Friends of Bar-Ilan University, which supported her work for over 30 years.
A Full Professor at the Churgin School of Education, Prof. Klein was one of the world’s premier experts in early childhood education, developing research-based models for educational care and enrichment which focused on infant-adult interactions. Her research, dealing with early intervention in education, made important contributions to the field in Israel, the US and around the world, and brought her recognition among leading international researchers.
The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Prof. Klein was the first baby born after World War II into a family that had lost all its children. She immigrated to Israel from Poland with her parents, the late Rachel and Dov Steibel. Prof. Klein often said her belief in tikkun olam (improving the world) was inspired by her parents, who survived the Holocaust while their families perished. “I think my mental diet was composed of a lot of love and caring, which probably enhanced in me a need to express it and do something for others,” she said.
After completing her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, Prof. Klein was awarded a scholarship toward her doctoral degree in education at the University of Rochester in New York. Her research focused on the impact of malnutrition in infancy on the development of learning and thinking skills in school. As a young researcher, she won a research scholarship from the prestigious U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Later, the More Intelligent and Sensitive Child (MISC) Program she developed was adopted by the NIH as the tool for early intervention in combination with medical treatment for AIDS-infected children in Africa. The MISC Program, designed for children with developmental disabilities, children from low-income families and gifted children, has proven effective in improving the cognitive, psychosocial and emotional development of disadvantaged children.
Prof. Klein’s work has also been adopted by governments and agencies around the world and used as models of intervention with thousands — if not millions — of children. Teams from many countries, including the US, have applied or tailored her models to their specific needs and cultures. Her work has received support from the U.S.-based Harris Foundation, Bader Foundation and Pitt Foundation. Since 1988 she served as Director of the Edward I. and Fannie Baker Center for the Study of Development Disorders in Infants and Young Children at Bar-Ilan University, established by the late Baker couple from Cleveland, Ohio.
In 1984-5 Prof. Klein was invited by the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to participate in a study tracking babies at risk for developmental problems. The purpose of the study was to identify the specific elements of parental behavior which predict developmental and learning difficulties in children. In the framework of this study, which was conducted in Washington, D.C., Prof. Klein implemented the methods of measurement she developed to evaluate quality of interaction. It was found that her formula was the most effective in identifying specific problems in adult-child interactions, which predicted developmental difficulties in the population being studied.
Prof. Klein is survived by her husband, three children and many grandchildren.