Sunday, 16 October 2011

Chapter 81 Teaching in the West Bank

School is hectic. Incredibly hectic.

The Palestinian curriculum for English is grammar heavy. Schools that follow this curriculum tend to produce children who can close their eyes and recite every rule governing the usage of the Present Perfect tense but don't have any vocabulary to plug into it. Essentially, they are non speakers.

Not speaking English (or any of the other international languages) is a huge obstacle to anyone who wants to travel, study abroad or be at the top of their industry. Such is the problem for many doctors in the West Bank who don't have a solid grasp of English. It is very difficult for them to keep up with vital developments in medical technology or breakthroughs in treatment methods.

If you want to communicate with the world on any large, meaningful scale you need to speak a language that it can access and understand.

The school I teach at places a lot more focus on English than the other schools, which is one of the reasons parents send their children to us. Students have two hours of English a day focusing on speaking and communicating as well as grammar and writing.

The upside of this is that we can to be as creative and fun with the kids as we want.

The downside is that we have to generate almost all the required material. This means worksheets, factsheets, readings, tests and any other materials that we give out in class.

Full time teachers teach two English classes a day. That's four hours worth of materials for each day of the week. We have standard reading  books but many of us choose to use outside materials or write our own.

If you want to give your students high quality materials, this means hours upon hours of work and research outside of class and school time.

Half a week's worth of developed material for 20 kids

Grammar worksheet - who doesn't love pelicans in party hats?

Song lyrics to our new class song with images to explain new vocabulary

Most of the time our weekends and evenings are spent working.

Prior to to the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the West Bank followed Jordan's educational curriculum and Gaza followed Egypt's. Since then the PA has developed its own curriculum.

School leaving exams here are tough. These 'Tawjihi' exams rely on rote memorization and students who fail their 'tawjihi' exams are most likely to find themselves unemployed.

In an area which is already economically depressed, there are few opportunities available even for those who pass with flying colors.

Students are under so much pressure while preparing for these exams that they will literally study during every available waking hour. As a general rule, Palestinian students work hard. They study ferociously for exams and their parents place great emphasis on grades. 

The biggest complaint most teachers have is that they are not given enough support  by the ministry and the books are inadequate. While there is work being done to change this, it's slow moving.

The Palestinian Curriculum English book

Another complaint is the lack of focus given to creativity and analytic thought in the national curriculum. There is very little emphasis placed on teaching students to be creative or problem solve. Such is the extent of the focus on memorization that students are rarely encouraged to actually think. 

Similarly to when I was growing up in Dubai, there is little to no emphasis given to the arts. These are not areas where people are likely to make a living so little effort is put into teaching them or developing talented children within them.

Sports is another issue. Many children find themselves in sports outside of school. However there is little education about nutrition, the importance of a healthy life style or even developments of students' skills in this area.

Needless to say, this is especially lacking for girls, many of whom will never even have the chance to discover whether or not they have a natural talent for it.

There you have it. My long winded, roundabout way of apologizing for not posting for so long.

Hopefully this makes up for it a little bit :)


  1. I do hope your post is widely read. It is an absolute tragedy when an educational curriculum puts the emphasis on rote learning and leaves scant room for encouraging the skills needed for creative original thinking by scholars or students.

  2. interesting how much emphasis you place on teh system.. israeli schools are almost the same only we dont get the benefit of great teachers like you..

    our high school exams were largely about rote learning and they did not drive us to any creativity.. the materials you took photos of remind me of schooling i did overseas.. but nothing like my schooling here in israel which was largely about frontal lectures and homework that comprised mostly paraphrasing text books or solving maths/science questions that were formula based..

    most students were heavily affected by boredom and had to constantly fight the distractions of our boring playgrounds..

    maybe both systems should look at some serious reform..

  3. Dear Sara,

    I want to thank you for this post and ask you for your permission to translate it to Arabic and re-post it through my blog after referring to your blog,
    as some of us (bloggers) have been discussing the educational problems in various Arab countries.
    until now we all concluded to the most of points that you have listed :
    -inadequate curriculums all depending on memorizing and not encouraging critical thinking or problem solving.
    -Absence of care for arts or sports.
    -that is all besides the poor conditions of most of the government schools in most of the Arab countries,
    - and of course the underpaid, unappreciated, non experienced nor trained teachers.

    so,,,is it OK with you for me to copy,translate and re-post this entry?

  4. Thanks for the comments Macthomson. I agree with you - it does very little to prepare them for the 'real world' and I think learning to 'think' is much harder when you're older.

    Nayan - you are more than welcome to repost it. thank you for your kind words. I know many educational systems in the Middle East are being looked at to address how to better serve their students and teachers. Would be very interested to hear more about what you've uncovered.

    Lirun - interesting comment. Thanks for that.

  5. Thank you so much sara,
    it will be posted soon "in sha'a allah",I will keep you updated with the comments for this.
    although we are not very optimistic for a huge change or solving many issues but at least we are listing the complains hoping some one would do something about them.

    I was wondering whether if this is a public(government) school or a private one?

    thanks again my dear.

  6. Hi Sara,

    I am so glad Kelly posted a link to your blog. This is a wonderful post! I am so grateful to know that there are some strong-spirited young people pouring into these students. I know it is not an easy life and that the challenges and chaotic environment at times becomes overwhelming. This is clearly not a job for the faint of heart!! But to those who endure is the prize of knowing that you have made a difference. Not just in the kids here and now, but in their futures and probably in their future families. Well done!

    Sheryl B (Kelly's mom)


  8. Hi Naysan,

    Thanks very much for the link!

    I teach at a private school but volunteer with an NGO called Teach For Palestine who take the that spirit of teaching to the public schools in Nablus and the surrounding camps. They hold free English classes throughout the year to support both teachers and students in English learning.


    I also hope we'll see some change soon :)

    Mrs Belson thank you sooo much for your lovely comment! I hope to see you soon!!

  9. السلام عليكم
    شكرا لك ساره على مشاركتك لنا فى دعم هذه القضية
    كنت رائعة فى عرضك لما ترينه من مشكلات
    دومتى بخير

  10. dear sara

    thanks a lot for this effort u have put here and the discussion of the situations of education in West Bank .. here in gaza we as teachers face the same problems...i work at high school and i feel how much students suffer from the system of education and from the ways which are used to present the curriculum ...
    thank u for these point u have highlighted
    and thanks for Nysan who gave us the chance to meet this nice blog

    zena zedan

  11. thank you Zena! Do you follow a different curriculum in Gaza than in the West Bank?

    thank you Nysan!

  12. hello Sara,
    i checked the TFP link and gasped a look at all the great work you are doing with the kids,God bless you all.
    I see that my friends found their way here which is a pleasure for me :)
    Zena is an exceptional young teacher from Gaza,glad that she found you here.
    (rehlet hayat) the life trip blogger is a fellow blogger from Egypt who is anxious to see some change also:in his comment he thanks you for this post and admires your preview for these issues.
    my friend Amal who is a blogger from Jerusalem city did agree with what you displayed but was wondering in her comment at my blog how can parents over come some issues as she is a mother and three of her kids is at the beginning of their education journey in Palestine.

    my best regards for Mrs Belson and yourself.
    take care dear.

  13. hi sara

    in Gaza we have the same curriculum as in West Bank .. and 'Tawjihi' exams are national exams which means students in Gaza and West Bank have the same final exams ...

    happy to be here