Making English Work at An-Najah

The New York Times ran a big story this week about how a college degree is becoming a prerequisite for even the lowest-level jobs. Reading about the plight of recent college graduates in the United States and their struggle to find rewarding, challenging employment, it was hard not to think immediately of my class of beginner English students at An-Najah University. Students in the An-Najah beginner English and professional competency class work in pairs to prepare an oral presentation on their strengths and weaknesses.

Whatever issues young people are facing in the US economy, they are dwarfed by the obstacles encountered by young Palestinians entering the workforce. According to a report from the International Labor Organization, more than 70% of Palestinians under the age of 30 are unemployed. The lack of employment for young people is a serious problem on a societal level, because it means that some of the most creative and productive years of the labor force’s working life are being squandered, inhibiting economic growth and progress. But it’s also a tragedy on an individual level, as young people who have worked for years to achieve an education now find themselves unable to translate academic success into a career.

Speaking with my students, I’ve heard about some of these issues on a personal level. Everyone is looking for a job, but few people can find one, much less in their field they've studied in. It’s not unusual to hear about recent college graduates taking jobs as janitors because they could not find other work. The students in my class are smart, eager to learn, and dedicated, and it’s difficult to see so many of them struggle in the job market.

The English classes my fellow interns and I are teaching at An-Najah are a step toward improving the English and professional skills of Palestinian students, making them more desirable in the job market and more likely to find employment. Knowledge of English is rare in Nablus, so when a job applicant can demonstrate a good knowledge of the language, it really makes them stand out. Already, in the first few weeks of my class, I’ve seen students increase their English skills to an impressive degree. And perhaps most important of all, with that increased knowledge comes increased confidence—just what they need to succeed in life as well as in the job market.


Alex is an TYO intern in Nablus.