Saturday, 16 November 2013

East Jerusalem Schools

The frustrations and perseverance of teachers in East Jerusalem schools were shown to us as we visited two girls' schools. Although claimed and run by Israel, the international community and the United Nations considers the annexation of East Jerusalem illegal. The political situation has created numerous issues for Palestinians, one of which is their access to education.

Overcrowding was the clearest and most obvious issue facing the schools. In many cases the girls had little personal space and there was no real room to navigate inside the classrooms. Rooms for special educational needs children were non-existent. In one school, teachers had to change their teaching practice to accommodate the space issues. For younger girls, the work was all done in groups of four with their desks facing each other. They said they were receiving positive results from this change as the children worked together and those who were struggling with a topic were helped by those with a clearer understanding. In another school there was no place for the teachers to congregate except for six small, converted kitchens. Staff meetings were impossible and parents' evenings had to be held outside. These issues were not due to poor funding or lack of building space, but because of the prohibitions placed on Palestinian construction by the Israeli Municipality.

The nature of the journey to and from school has an adverse effect on both teachers and students. The biggest issue is the need for many to cross through military checkpoints every day - prolonging journey times and facing questioning. The Principal of one school informed us that her teachers were working under undue stress because of their journeys which affected their mental health, and that her home life was affected because of fatigue. Teachers and students face losing permission to pass through the checkpoint, often for no given reason. If a family member of a teacher gets into an altercation with the IDF or gets arrested then the teacher can lose their permission. Students of all ages are subjected to military checks and humiliation, which affects their performance. We were told the story of one girl whose permission was taken away just before her final exams. Despite being a high-flying student she achieved a mediocre grade, adversely affecting the rest of her life.

One of the schools we visited, Dar Al-Tifel Al-Arabi
Schooling in East Jerusalem can be seen as a microcosm of wider Palestinian 'Jerusalemite' society. Building restrictions, overcrowding and military checkpoints help to perpetuate a cycle of poverty due to high school drop-out rates and low employment opportunities. The sad fact is that these are all man-made issues which can be changed by policy makers.

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