Linking advocacy and inclusive pedagogy:
An example from Gaza

Suha Surour and Asad Ashour

Advocacy takes many different forms. This article illustrates how one project in Gaza, Palestine, combined efforts to advocate for the development of more learner-centred inclusive teaching practices, with opportunities for children to advocate on issues that are important to them.

Introduction
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has been working in partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to support the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA), and the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MoEHE) in Palestine. The specific programme described in this case study has been funded by the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID).

This work is part of the overall Education for All (EFA) Package for Palestine on inclusive and child-friendly education and early childhood development, jointly designed and implemented by the MoEHE and nine UN agencies* since 2011. The overall objective of the EFA Package is to strengthen the capacities of the Ministry and education personnel to promote quality basic education for all children, regardless of their gender, abilities, disabilities, backgrounds and circumstances. This Package is responding to the MoEHE’s goals to increase access to education for school-aged children, to retain those children in the education system and to improve the quality of teaching and learning.

* FAO, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNRWA, UNSCO, WFP and WHO, co-ordinated by UNESCO

In Gaza, children grow up in very difficult conditions, frequently surrounded by poverty and violence. Schools provide them with a place to learn the skills for a better future. Partly due to the pressures of a large population and relative lack of space in Gaza, many schools are operating on a double-shift basis, hosting one ‘school’ of students in the morning and a second ‘school’ in the afternoon. A few schools even have three shifts per day, due to the last war in 2014. Additionally, many schools are used as shelters for internally displaced people who have lost their houses due to the last war.

These challenging environmental and social conditions make it very difficult to provide a comprehensive and inclusive system of education for Gaza’s children and young people. Educators have little control over such conditions and little capacity or opportunity to change them directly. However, educators do have influence over the way education is organised in Gaza and, as such, can make changes towards greater inclusion.

Overview of activities
Through the capacity development programme NRC, UNESCO, MoEHE and UNRWA have sought to raise awareness among supervisors, school principals, teachers and education specialists about inclusive education, and to help them incorporate inclusive practices into schools and classrooms.

Both UNRWA and the MoEHE run their own schools in Palestine, but work collaboratively to support the education needs of Palestinian children.

Counsellors and supervisors are employees of the MoEHE and UNRWA. They work directly with schools and teachers in a support capacity. ‘Subject supervisors’ in particular can play a significant role in changing teachers’ attitudes towards inclusion and supporting them to meet their students’ needs. Subject supervisors are able to spread inclusive education messages to all teachers across Gaza, as they have access to multiple schools. They have the remit to coach teachers, so if the supervisors embrace new approaches, they can influence teachers to do the same.

As a first step, NRC and UNESCO conducted several training sessions for ‘Master Trainers’ among the counsellors and supervisors to prepare a group of Master Trainers as a key resource to support the implementation of inclusive and child-friendly education in Palestine. The Master Trainers then led awareness-raising sessions and training at MoEHE and UNRWA target schools in different areas of the Gaza strip.

Six schools from among the 26 target schools in the Gaza strip were then chosen to participate in action research projects. Twelve teachers and special education specialists learned about the action research cycle, and then started to implement this approach to solve some of the problems they face in their schools and classrooms.

NRC, UNESCO, UNRWA and the MoEHE later implemented a pilot activity in four Grade 4 classes, at two UNRWA and two MoEHE schools. The MoEHE and UNRWA nominated outstanding teachers, supervisors and school principals to be trained in, and then oversee, child-led activities at the schools for two weeks during the summer.

A fourth step is to prepare an activities guide for Grades 1-4. This has been undertaken by subject supervisors with NRC and UNESCO’s support. The guide includes various curriculum activities suitable for all children, particularly in Mathematics and Arabic. The activities have been designed to help teachers engage children in learning, regardless of their differences and abilities. This guide is still being developed, but is close to completion.

Currently, the activities of action research and child-led activities are being expanded to other schools.

This case study focuses specifically on the child-led activities component of the programme.

Grade 4 student writing a slogan about protecting the environment

Grade 4 student writing a slogan about protecting the environment
Umm Al-Qura Co- Basic School, West Gaza, June 2014
© UNESCO/Bilal Al Hamaydah

Aims of the child-led activities
The implementation of child-led activities sought to make education more inclusive, through demonstrating and advocating the use of child-led active learning techniques which would be integrated with the existing curriculum through a project-based learning approach. The learning projects would also have a focus on advocacy, enabling children to raise awareness about an issue that concerned them.

As well as benefitting children, teachers and parents, the programme was designed to actively engage with school principals. The programme sought to support schools in:

School community members (teachers, children, parents and school administrators, and the counsellors and subject supervisors who support schools) were key targets for this programme.

Engaging school communities in child-led activities
The child-led activities manual has been developed and subject supervisors have been trained in how to use it and how to train and support teachers to use it inside their classes.

Teachers, school principals and subject supervisors from four target schools received one week’s training in using the child-led activities manual. One Grade 4 class per school then tried out some child-led activities. Each class had more than 30 children with diverse backgrounds and disabilities.

The activities took place during a two-week period, under the supervision of school principals and subject supervisors. Teachers in each school worked as facilitators. They allowed children to choose their favourite topics to work on: two schools chose ‘nutrition’ as their main topic, while the other two chose ‘environment’.

Children collected information on their topics. They expressed their feelings and shared their learning about the topics by making drawings and stories related to these topics. Some children wrote songs. Others wrote slogans and advocacy messages on issues including their right to a balanced diet and an appropriate living and learning environment. Some children used drama and role-play to express their feelings about healthy food and environmental issues.

The children also prepared short and simple surveys, under their teachers’ supervision, and distributed these to their parents and neighbours. They analysed the results using charts and tables. Teachers (the facilitators) used presentations, short videos and brought in external visitors to further develop and stimulate children’s learning on their chosen topics. Throughout the activities, children worked in groups and sometimes individually.

At the end, the children agreed on a commitment which they named the ‘Olive Tree Commitment’. This included points on how children can protect their environment and how they can help themselves in eating healthy food, with support from their parents.

On the last day, participating children organised an advocacy campaign/event. They invited UNRWA and MoEHE education management, their parents, and some local institutes. The results of the children’s survey were presented and the invited guests were given an opportunity to see the children’s advocacy materials (drawings, stories, slogans, etc). The children signed the ‘Olive Tree Commitment’ with their parents, in front of their visitors. They took copies home and agreed to follow the points outlined in the commitment.

Grade 4 students with their teachers and school principal

Grade 4 students with their teachers and school principal
Umm Al-Qura Co- Basic School, West Gaza, June 2014
© UNESCO/Bilal Al Hamaydah

Issues and challenges
One of the main challenges that we faced was to convince schools about the importance and value of such child-led activities. In particular, it was difficult to convince school principals to try these activities in their schools. Principals are often overloaded with initiatives, but without their support we knew it could be difficult to get teachers on board.

One principal in particular doubted that fourth grade students in her school could lead activities, launch a campaign or advocate in any other way. She recommended that we start with older students. She also thought that parents would be too busy looking for jobs and trying to meet their families’ basic needs, and would not be available to come to school or work with their children at home. Often schools arrange meetings for parents that the latter do not find useful, but rarely invite them to actively participate, so inevitably they become reluctant to engage with the school or their child’s education. The principal suggested we should choose a school in a different area. However, we reassured her that this activity would suit her school and promised her it would have a positive impact on students, teachers and parents. The school participated.

Timing was also a big challenge. The only time available for us to conduct the activities was in the summer, when schools are closed. But this is also teachers’ annual leave period, so we offered teachers a small amount of money to facilitate their movement to school during their leave.

Many students were of course planning to join their communities’ summer activities, which their parents felt were more suitable than our activities. We overcame this by arranging a meeting with parents to clarify the importance and expected impacts of our activities.

Taking a break from the child-led activities

Taking a break from the child-led activities
Rudolph Feltar Co- Basic School, Middle of Gaza, September 2014
© UNESCO/ Bilal Al Hamaydah

Results
The child-led activities proved to be the most successful part of NRC’s overall advocacy initiative. It showed school principals, subject supervisors and parents (and the children themselves) that children could do much more than people had previously believed. Children had the chance to discover their strengths. They also had the chance to lead and to advocate. The child-led activities helped change attitudes among all who participated, particularly subject supervisors and teachers.

Subject supervisors began to advocate about the benefits of child-led activities during regular visits to schools. They have briefed other teachers on the activities and their potentials. As a result teachers have begun changing their attitudes towards children, which is also positively impacting children’s performance in class.

Some parents previously thought their children were failures, who could not do anything. But after their involvement in child-led activities, parents realised that their children could do a lot. Their children were bringing books and other work home. Parents said that for the first time their children were eager to go to school, and talk about the academic day.

“I can’t believe that my child has the ability to do such work in just two weeks. I am a very lucky mother” one parent declared. “I am really glad that this little child can make decisions and force all of us to be committed to his very useful suggestions, like reducing the amount of plastic bags used and reusing some items”.

The child-led activities included making booklets. All of the children had the chance to write short stories with illustrations. The stories/booklets will be used when teaching Grade 1 students. This activity left every participating child feeling proud that they had made a product that will be useful for others.

The principal who had initially been reluctant to have child-led activities in her school started to realise that students, especially those who previously had been considered ‘low achievers’, can do a lot. She encouraged parents to sign the ‘Olive Tree Commitment’, and motivated them to follow their children’s progress at home. She also asked the participating teachers to train all of their colleagues and began to advocate for child-led activities in all MoEHE schools.

Performance about protecting the environment

Performance about protecting the environment
Umm Al-Qura Co- Basic School, West Gaza, June 2014
© UNESCO / Bilal Al Hamaydah

Lessons learned
This experience highlighted the importance of involving the school principals if we want to make a change at school level. Advocacy and awareness activities therefore have to target education senior management and policy-makers.

We learned that changing attitudes takes time, so facilitators need to be patient. Using success stories from other countries (as well as our own) can help in this regard. Working as a team on new initiatives like this is also important, as is ensuring that parents and the local community are actively involved in inclusive education advocacy activities.

We should ensure that there are regular meetings for school principals and teachers to exchange ideas and experiences, or find other ways to share learning.

Feedback from teachers and subject supervisors

“The children… were tasked to make many products in just two weeks. They made a small survey, they drafted and signed the Olive Tree Commitment (a commitment on what they as children could do to protect the environment), they wrote and illustrated a book about the environment for Grade 1 children, and they made an exhibition/awareness campaign for their parents and the community. This was an enormous challenge, but at the end all the children completed their tasks and the results were impressive.” (subject supervisor)

“I couldn’t believe that children who were just ten years old had the ability to work in such a huge, complex and amazing project. I am very proud of my students.” (teacher)

“Implementing project-based learning was the best thing that happened to me all summer. Soon after we completed the summer camp, war came to Gaza. I was thinking back at the time I had with my pupils and longed for peace.” (teacher)

“I’ve been teaching for a long time. I used to complain about my students all the time – they drove me crazy. Some of them only followed my instructions, while the majority of them never accomplished any of my well-planned activities... After these two weeks (with child-led activities/project-based learning) I saw the amazing products and achievements of my students and I recognised that if teachers want their students to be involved in any activity, they should give them the opportunity to participate actively in the planning, design and evaluation of the activity. I learned how important it is to cultivate an academic environment in any classroom by having high expectation of my students and to do a “gut-check” from time to time about my own beliefs concerning their abilities.” (teacher)

 

Feedback from NRC staff

“Before working with the NRC, I worked with UNRWA for 12 years as a science teacher. Actually, I wished that I had been aware of such initiatives to use them with my students at that time.”

“This advocacy work means a lot to me. It confirmed to me that when a leader is ready, well prepared, s/he can do a lot. A true leader can encourage his/her employees and lead them towards better practices.”

Contact:
Suha Salem Surour
Teacher Support Officer - NRC Gaza
E-mail:

Asad Said Ashour
Inclusive Education Team Leader - NRC Gaza
Email:


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