Making the learning environment more welcoming, Palestine

Akram Abualia

My first job as a teacher was at Alrashayda School near the Dead Sea in Palestine. It is far from Bethlehem without transport services to the school because it is in an area of Israeli settlements and military camps. Before the current peace process started between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities, education was organised by the Israeli authorities. It was forbidden to build or develop schools, yet existing schools in Palestine were overcrowded. The Palestine Ministry of Education decided to open schools in different places, such as rented houses, clubs and public centres. My school was one of these new schools in a mosque basement, and it presented me with some interesting challenges.

My first job as a teacher was at Alrashayda School near the Dead Sea in Palestine. It is far from Bethlehem without transport services to the school because it is in an area of Israeli settlements and military camps. Before the current peace process started between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities, education was organised by the Israeli authorities. It was forbidden to build or develop schools, yet existing schools in Palestine were overcrowded. The Palestine Ministry of Education decided to open schools in different places, such as rented houses, clubs and public centres. My school was one of these new schools in a mosque basement, and it presented me with some interesting challenges.

This desert area has many Bedouin people who move according to the weather and grazing for their animals. However, people are increasingly staying in one place, as the political situation makes travelling difficult. For those who stay here it can be tough - people are often quite poor, and school facilities inadequate. The number of pupils attending my class decreased as the winter got colder - seven out of 14 pupils moved with their families to warmer Jericho. Those who stayed were too cold to learn properly.

My friends told me I would soon resign and return to Bethlehem; this was a difficult place and they thought I would not be able to cope. But I knew I could be a good teacher and I did not intend to give up easily.

The classroom in the mosque basement was not well built. The walls were not finished, open doors and windows let in the cold weather, the floor was uneven, and there was no heating or electricity. Some of the children could not afford warm clothes or even shoes. Even though they were present in class, they could not participate properly - they could not concentrate on their lessons. I also found it hard to teach well in such conditions.

I was determined that the children should have an education; why should the political and environmental situation deny them their right?

We could not afford to improve the school buildings, so the situation initially seemed impossible. However, one day I decided that we would move the furniture to a corner of the classroom. The children then collected some wood, built a fire, and sat around it in the same way that they do at home. We carried out our lessons like this until the weather warmed up.

While the children warmed up I let them sing songs and tell stories from their experiences. Then I could start my lessons. The children were much happier and more confident about answering questions and participating in class. In break times they and their friends from other classes always wanted to talk and walk with me because they had heard about our classroom. The students told their families and they started to visit me at school. Some came to thank me, but others said I was wasting my time. I invited all the parents to a meeting to explain why I was running my class in this way. Not all came, but it was still a good meeting, and parents said they would bring me anything they could to help my work.

One day the Minister of Education and Director in the Education Directorate came to open a new school nearby, within the Palestinian authority area. They also wanted to visit our school. The head teacher asked the teachers to prepare a good reception. I created a programme which included some of the families building a traditional tent for the visitors, facilitating children to talk to the Minister and sing Bedouin songs, and some wore their traditional clothes. It was a great day for everybody.

The Director noticed my working approach with parents and children, and invited me to work in a new inclusive education programme. I willingly accepted because I felt I could do even more for marginalised children in our society. But it was my work as a teacher in that school which made me love teaching so much, and which now influences my new job.

Akram Abualia is a teacher now working as a Special Education Supervisor in the Ministry of Education, Palestine. He is one of 36 members who established the inclusive education programme, and now co-ordinates the programme in the central and southern West Bank areas.
Contact:
PO Box 168
Bethlehem
Palestine
Email:

Reference:
Title: Making the Learning Environment more Welcoming, Palestine
Author: Abualia, A
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2006
Link: http://www.eenet.org.uk/resources/eenet_newsletter/news10/page12.php
Published in: Enabling Education 10