There are many challenges that schools in Palestine face to better serve students. Following the reoccupation of Beit Jala for over ten days in October (2001) and the reoccupation of the outskirts of Ramallah at the same time, our Latin Patriarchate Schools experienced the worst of the Intifada during this thirteen month period since the Uprising was sparked on September 28, 2000. The major challenge is being able to hold a regular school day and complete a regular assigned curriculum with the terrible blockade and siege imposed on the Palestinian territories.
There are many challenges that schools in Palestine face to better serve students. Following the reoccupation of Beit Jala for over ten days in October (2001) and the reoccupation of the outskirts of Ramallah at the same time, our Latin Patriarchate Schools experienced the worst of the Intifada during this thirteen month period since the Uprising was sparked on September 28, 2000. The major challenge is being able to hold a regular school day and complete a regular assigned curriculum with the terrible blockade and siege imposed on the Palestinian territories. The many checkpoints frustrate the majority of students and teachers that just can’t seem to make it to school smoothly. An additional major challenge for schools in dealing with children under the general exposure to psychological trauma specifically observed in children facing fear, family unbalance, psychological exhaustion of students, children switching schools, an obsession with knowing the news, and exposure to violence daily. Furthermore, it is a challenge to maintain teacher training and deal with parents that can not pay their school fees.Maintaining Attendance
One of the major challenges facing our schools is the actual attendance of teachers and students. People need freedom of movement so that teachers and students can reach the actual school location. During the Uprising we had frequent occurrences where when the students show up for a regular school day, the teachers can not pass the checkpoints to give the lessons. On other occasions when the teachers manage to pass strict checkpoints, the students are stuck at home because of the severe blockade and siege on their towns. The problem with the blockade and attendance leads to not being able to cover the appropriate curriculum for the school year.
Dealing with Psychological Trauma
Another major challenge facing our schools is how to deal with students experiencing the psychological trauma and psychological effects that shooting and bombing and the denial of human rights bring about in their psyche and emotional attitude. The Latin Patriarchate Schools lack social workers, psychologists and funds for any type of training that can better deal with the crisis children are experiencing dealing with fear and anxiety living under Israeli military occupation.
Children Facing Fear Daily
This challenge is noticed by seeing children that face fear daily. Dealing with children that live without knowing what their future holds. Basic questions such as is there a road to school today or not? Is the checkpoint open today or not? Will the soldiers shoot me at the checkpoint? Will the Israelis invade Ramallah tonight or not? At any moment and at any time any violent act can occur that will change the regular routine of the school child or might leave the child stuck at home for several days because the streets are not safe enough for the child to travel to school. This fear effects the student’s concentration in the classroom. The teacher is challenged to keep the student focused on the specific subject taught.
Family Balance Changes
The balance has changed in many families because of the roadblocks and siege. In the villages around the Ramallah area, many fathers moved away from their families to live close to their work so the children do not see the father regularly. On the other hand there are a number of mothers with children that have moved out of their regular family home to live close to the school as to avoid the checkpoints. The family situation, unbalance and change affects how children learn in school because the Palestinian family is known to be a very close knit family so the uprooting of the father or the children from their regular environment affects their emotional behavior. Furthermore, many children in the Beit Sahour area have not lived in their regular family home for over a year now because they live in a high-risk area where it is still dangerous to return to their home because of the constant shooting and bombing which continues on and off. Not having a comfortable, secure and safe home environment shows up in children’s attitude and behavior in the classroom.
Psychological Exhaustion of Students
The schools face a challenge to deal with students exhausted making it to school. This challenge is noticed by the tiredness and warring down the children experience by spending too much time on the road travelling back and forth to school. When a child from the village leaves his home at 6:30 in the morning just to make it on time to school for a 8:00 am class, it is frustrating. And, half the time he might arrive later than the first period having gone through a hardship and long wait at the checkpoint and many times several checkpoints. The attitude towards learning and concentration will most likely be affected. The student is psychologically tiered and worn out before making it to school. He has concentrated all his energy and effort as how to make it to school safe. Some small children because of the terrible side roads with holes and rocks and being in the car for over an hour on a poor road, vomit daily before making it to school.
Children Switching Schools
Another challenge facing the schools are students that were forced to change their school because of the terrible blockade and siege. We have many students for example that were attending school in the city of Ramallah and because of the closure they were forced to change their school for this current academic year in order to attend a Latin Patriarchate School nearer to their village. There is a lot of resentment that comes from such a change because the students and the parents did not select the change but it was forced upon them because of the Uprising and the difficulty with freedom of movement. Thus, we have many unhappy and very depressed students who are missing their previous school environment. They miss the teachers they liked, the classmates they knew and the principal they admired. This change has affected their academic learning and their concentration inside the new classroom. Such students report that they hate school.
Mania with Knowing the News
Moreover, a challenge worth mentioning is that teachers are faced with students that do not want to do their homework. Everyone during the Uprising is glued to the TV for news that they can not even think or give any of their energy to academic subjects. This obsession with watching the news and violent events that take place daily effect the thinking and the energy of students towards their studies in general and their daily homework in particular. This lack of interest in learning eventually has to be addressed by educators. It is a challenge to motivate and encourage children to achieve academically with the backdrop of violence and daily bloodshed.
Exposure to Violent Acts and Massacres
A challenge the schools are facing during the Intifada deals with the students’ mentality. A serious phenomenon that is effecting our students’ mentality can be seen from the way suicide bombers give up their life and also from the on going massacre of Palestinians during certain intense events when the Israeli army kills at random. For example on Thursday, October 25 2001, a bloodbath took place in the village of Beit Rima, thirty minutes outside Ramallah. An outright massacre happened under the orders of Sharon and his army when they stormed the area with tanks, armored jeeps and heavy military equipment killing ten Palestinians one after the other. The army made an announcement that they only wanted one person in suspicion of the assassination of the Israeli tourist minister but killed all the others in the process and severely injured dozens including women and children. The wounded were lying under olive trees all day because the ambulances were prevented from getting through to the village. When students see and perceive that Palestinian life is so cheap how could they sit in a classroom and make math important or the science lesson important. The killing effects their mentality and their attitude towards education. “Why should I bother to learn if I’m just going to die.”
Maintaining Teacher Training
An additional challenge facing our schools is how to maintain teacher training and development in the schools in order to upgrade skills and teaching methods. It is impossible to coordinate meetings, workshops, lectures among the different schools. Teachers have such difficulty making it to the school itself, that it is impossible to ask them for any additional time. They are overburden by the long hours they spend on the road and the extra cost in travelling since most teachers take one taxi to the checkpoint, walk across the checkpoint and pay for an additional taxi or two to their final destination.
Parents Unable to Pay School Fees
A final challenge facing the schools during the Intifada is the parents not able to pay their school fees due to the poor economy and high unemployment. Some parents are forced to take their children out of the private schools and place them in government schools with minimal fees. For Christian families this is a major problem because their children are no longer in a Christian focused environment. Another challenge faced by the schools is the parents constantly complaining because of the high cost of books during such times of hardship. Worst of all is when parents in the village can not pay the tuition, do not want to switch schools and bring containers of oil, their only valuable possession from the olive harvest to pay for tuition.
In conclusion, the challenges are far too many and the solutions are few. The bottom line is that Palestinian children deserve the right to an education under international human rights laws. But probably the human rights organizations have not realized that over 120 schools were closed over a week period in October 2001 including the Beit Jala Latin Patriarchage School and probably it is unbelievable that over 50,000 students could not get to school in October in the Holy Land. It is unbelievable that the Intifada has created all these different challenges because it was enough of a challenge to change the traditional Palestinian passive education to a more active and dynamic process of learning, but now that is a far fetched vision.