Comparative perspectives on education in the UK and Palestinian contexts
The universal significance of education to global development is underscored by the second Millennium Development Goal. Recognizing its importance, Palestinians often describe education as a means to bettering their lives. The Palestinian education system is comparatively very young, and contends with multiple political, economic and social constraints - factors noted in a 2007 publication from UNESCO and Save The Children. In addition to state and private schools serving both Britons and Palestinians, UN agency UNRWA educates over 50,000 children from grades 1 to 10 in the West Bank, but is highly dependent on unstable funding sources.
My seventy-two year-old father can regurgitate a series of Latin noun declensions from his schooldays, reflecting rote learning and memorisation trends apparent within the current Palestinian education system. These methods can equip students to pass exams, but they stifle independent thinking, which is essential to understanding. The Brookings Institution's 2014 Arab World Learning Barometer and companion report situate Palestinians within a wider regional education crisis, characterised in part by a deficit of transferable and vocational skills necessary for gainful employment. My most recent experience of UK higher education was replete with demands for critical analysis, and featured an array of self-directed learning tools and environments. In contrast, my interactions with students at An Najah University suggest that passive learning environments continue to prevail in higher education. This apparent lack of meaningful engagement creates barriers to comprehensive understanding and application of knowledge.
Prior to arriving in Nablus, I was uncertain about how the classes would work at TYO. Having left school a mere seven months ago, I am well-acquainted with life as a pupil in London. My day began at 7am, getting to school for an 8.30am start, formally finishing at 4pm but usually leaving around 5.30pm for after-school activities. I was wondering how TYO classes could begin at 3pm, since surely they would be missing school? This was not the case! Unlike myself, students here in Nablus start school at 8am, finishing between 12-1.30 pm. Whilst education is highly valued in Palestine, students are actually spending two to three hours fewer at school each day than their Western counterparts.
The school curriculum here in Nablus also appears very different to that of the UK. No drama or music is taught in school, and children aged between six and fourteen tend to have one sport and one art lesson a week. Most teachers here are not qualified to teach ‘creative’ skills and the majority of schools do not have the facilities, so there is more of a focus on academic study in Palestine. In contrast to England, seventeen and eighteen year olds can study a broader range of topics for their final years, ranging from sciences to finance. Unfortunately, this specialisation at school seems to create a heavy focus on memorisation in the classroom, rather than the development of skills.
In response to these issues, TYO has since its inception worked to foster skills such as creativity and problem solving. The main thing I have noticed during my time at TYO is the fear of inadequacy in creative activities. TYO's Early Childhood Education, international interns classes and Youth Development programs offer opportunities to explore creativity and self expression in a safe space, with inspiring play-based and interactive methods helping children and youth to flourish. Empowering young adults through classroom assistance and training sessions fosters the development of critical leadership, team working and interpersonal skills, transforming future employment prospects and strengthening their capacity for engagement with the wider community.
This program - as part of Student Training and Employment Program (STEP!) - is sponsored in part by the Abdul Hamid Shoman Foundation.
-TYO interns, Mariella and Laura