Fresh Perspectives on Education

As they conclude the last week of classes for the summer session here at TYO, Mary-Jo, Hannah, and Mitch compare and contrast their experience with education in Palestine with perspective that they have gained from news articles concerning women's education in Afghanistan, post-conflict education, and the future of education. In his most recent blog post for Al Jazeera on July 13, Qaiz Azimy reported on the current education situation for females in the rural Pashtun Zarghun district of Herat province in Afghanistan. Much to his amazement, more girls are attending schools than ever before in the district’s history; despite the many challenges they face both accessing and attending classes. Over 16,000 females are registered for school accounting for 40% of the student body. However, Azimy points out that a common concern amongst the female students is safety and security, especially if another war breaks out or if a different government takes power. Despite these fears though, the girls remain committed to pursuing their academic goals, since “education offers a glimmer of hope for the uncertain future in their war-torn nation.”

In our women’s classes at TYO, as well as with the girls in our children’s classes, we interns understand and see the many challenges that Palestinian women face in pursuing their educational goals. Similar to the Afghani girls Azimy writes about, our women are incredibly dedicated to learning as much as possible, as we have seen in our Women’s English classes, I.T. classes, and fitness classes this session. They understand the value of learning these skills, especially in a job market with such high unemployment. Despite our success with the Women’s Group at TYO, there are not many programs like ours across the Middle East and the developing world at large. NGOs, national governments, and local governments, like the one in Pashtun Zarghun, must allow for increased opportunities for girls and women to pursue their educational goals, and provide a safe, secure environment for all females to learn.

While the quality and security of life in Palestine has undoubtedly improved since the Second Intifada (2000-2005), this country remains deeply affected by that and previous conflicts. Past violence has particularly damaged the educational system in Palestine. In a recent article for the BBC, journalist and author of UNESCO's “Education Under Attack”, Brendan O'Malley demonstrates the relationship between conflict and the long term deterioration of education. Drawing upon data and experiences from the Philippines, Sierra Leon, Pakistan, and Nepal, O'Malley demonstrates the many ways in which conflict interferes with education. “Little attention”, according to O'Malley, “is paid to the catastrophic effect war can have on students and teachers. It can undermine for years the crucial role of education as a foundation stone for building peace and bringing economic and social development.”

O'Malley discusses successful techniques for ameliorating the effect of conflict on a country's educational system, such as negotiating with belligerent forces to avoid using schools as military installations.  With its broad scope and application, this article has given us important insights into the educational challenges that are faced by our summer camp students and volunteers at TYO. It becomes easier to understand the backgrounds of our community members and why they exhibit certain behaviors in the classroom including hyperactivity, lack of attention and lack of self-confidence in a class setting. Little by little, as TYO starts working with its students, we break down some of the barriers our beneficiaries struggle with.

In this short documentary, produced in conjunction with Good Magazine, there is a focus on moving forward with education; beyond basic memorization skills towards a future of self-directed learning for students. Educators and technological designers from across the world comment on the importance of integrating technology into the classroom and encouraging students to learn on their own. Most importantly, according to MIT professor Sugata Mitra, we must develop students’ critical reading skills, search/indexing skills, and their motivation for discovery. School should not be a place where students only learn how to be submissive- it should be a place for exploration. As Mitra comments, “I think our job as educators... in today’s information saturated world, is to give our children and armour against doctrine.”

While the future of education may lie in the hands of technology, we must all consider- how will this affect populations where these technologies are not so readily available? Furthermore, how can the power of technology be misused educators or those who wish to indoctrinate our youth? Creating a world where education and information are accessible to self-directed learners- that is how education will have a future. In Nablus, with an education system that focuses so heavily on memorization, TYO is often breaking ground for the students it works with. Through IT classes for children and mothers, and focusing on critical thinking skills in the classroom, we are inspiring Palestinian children to be self-directed learners and to prepare themselves for future of technological learning.

Gaining multiple perspectives can benefit any organization, government, or individual working in the field of education. At TYO and anywhere else, we are continuously learning, in order to overcome the challenges our children and women face in their pursuit of knowledge and education. With each new article and documentary, we come closer to better understanding the lives of the youth we work with.