Improving English Learning in Nablus
Learning is a continuous process that depends on the person providing information, the person receiving it, and the learning environment. Many problems ranging from rigid curricula, to overcrowded classrooms, to low teacher salaries, to Occupation-related restrictions, to poor teacher performance - pervade the Palestinian school system. All of these problems deserve attention. However, from listening to hundreds of students talk about their school experiences, it seems that often the most vivid and painful memories from school are directly related to the teacher and often to English class.
All three types of Palestinian schools – public government schools, UNRWA schools, and private schools – offer English as the main second language. Children usually begin English in first grade, take it throughout middle and high school, and then take at least three courses in college. Even though the children receive English training for at least 12 years, it is still one of the biggest challenges students face in their schools and in their lives.
Every session I lead focus groups with children from the community. When I ask them about challenges they face in school, the most popular response is always English. For example, one fourth-grade girl from the Old City said, “I hate English. I hate my teacher and every student at the school hates the teacher; even the smart girls hate her.” From similar focus groups, I have also heard university students cite that English is their most challenging subject. Additionally, home visits and focus groups with women in our needs assessment revealed that supporting children’s English learning is one of the largest obstacles women face as parents.
In order to improve English instruction in schools, we must develop teacher’s capacities and in turn, improve the learning environment. All teachers have incredible opportunities to support their students both inside and outside the classroom. If they want their students to succeed, teachers must demonstrate that they believe in them, will help to motivate them, and will foster a support system around the child with the help of their colleagues. Teachers who only focus on the literal information in the textbook have more classroom difficulties than teachers who incorporate creative ways of teaching broader concepts. Trainings should be offered to help teachers to see the teaching process holistically as improving life skills, problem solving techniques, and communication abilities.
The non-formal education interventions offered at TYO as well as Community English classes work to help students to realize that English does not need to be difficult. By offering English support in creative ways, we hope that children will understand that English does not need to be a source of stress; instead, it can be fun.
Suhad Jabi Masri is TYO’s Psychosocial Program Manager.