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International News
Palestinian schools strive to modernize classrooms
 
Ramallah, Sep 19 (AP) As the teacher pointed to the large touch screen, her first-grade classroom came alive. With the click of a link, an animated character popped up on the screen, singing and dancing as it taught the children how to read.

The day's lesson was the Arabic letter "Raa," and the screen displayed cartoon pictures of objects that contain the letter desert, chair and pomegranate as the teacher asked the children to come up with other words. The students smiled and sang along.

Just a few years ago, such scenes were unthinkable in most Palestinian classrooms. Like elsewhere in the Arab world, schools in the Palestinian territories have traditionally emphasized memorization and obedience over critical thinking and creativity.

With an eye to the future, some Palestinian educators now hope the use of technology and the arts will create new opportunities in a society that has produced large numbers of unemployed college graduates.

"The students don't need to memorize things. They need to understand first," said Ruba Dibas, the principal of the Ziad Abu Ein School in the West Bank city of Ramallah. "Then they need to express their understanding through writing, speaking, drawing, acting."

Ziad Abu Ein is one of 54 "smart teaching schools" introduced last year. This year, the number tripled. By 2020, all 1,800 public schools in the West Bank are to be part of the program.

Dibas said the goal is to eliminate testing from the classroom. Instead, she said students need to enjoy the learning process to absorb information.

On a recent day, her school was buzzing with activity.

In a fifth-grade classroom, each child had a tablet and the teacher guided them through an Arabic lesson, using her own tablet to give assignments. Third-grade students went to the smart board, playing a game to learn the multiplication table.

In other classes, students drew cartoons to learn the physics of how airplanes fly. An English class did a project about evaporation.

Four third-graders recently learned about self-esteem in a lesson called "learning by drama." They performed a short skit about a shy girl who discovers a passion for journalism and grows up to become a successful reporter.

Their teacher, Sawsan Abdat, said the children learned an important lesson that day that they need to find what they are good at.

After initial skepticism from parents last year, enrollment at the school has nearly doubled. This year's first grade has nearly tripled to 43 students.

"I love the school," said Malak Samara, a 9-year-old fourth grader. "We learn and enjoy. We learn and play."

These techniques are a radical departure from a system in which generations of students were forced to memorize information and cram for exams under the stern watch of an authoritarian teacher who in some cases would beat them with a stick if they could not complete their work.

But with the unemployment rate for new college graduates hitting 56 percent, according to the Palestinian Statistics Bureau, officials realized that something had to change.

Education Minister Sabri Seidam also introduced vocational training in grades seven, eight and nine last year to meet the needs of the market.

"Society needs singers, carpenters, cleaners, athletes, sergeants," he said. "We can't just produce engineers and doctors." Youth unemployment, particularly among university graduates, is a major problem across the Arab world. It was considered a driving force behind the Arab Spring revolutions that rocked the region in 2011.

Arab governments used to absorb new graduates, often in civil service jobs, but they can no longer afford to do that, in part because of the region's "youth bulge." The private sector offers limited opportunities, leaving large numbers of young graduates unemployed throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

"There is no greater challenge facing the MENA region in its efforts to build a future based on inclusive growth than job creation," the International Monetary Fund said in a report early this year. It noted that 60 percent of the region's population is under 30, the world's second-youngest after sub-Saharan Africa.

"Pressures on the region's labor markets are rising. In the past five years, the region's working-age population increased by 50.2 million, and 27.6 million people joined the labor force. Yet employment increased by only 25.4 million," it said.

Others in the Mideast have tried to make similar changes. In Egypt, the largest Arab country, the Education Ministry this year is providing students with tablets, along with a new curriculum that enhances critical thinking.

The ministry said it is also trying to improve the level of instruction by increasing training and wages for teachers, building more classrooms and creating a more modern classroom through digital learning facilities. The government this year secured a 500 million loan from the World Bank to help fund the reforms.

For now, it appears too soon to say whether the reforms can make a difference.

The region's authoritarian governments might encourage education reforms as an economic necessity but could balk in the future at efforts to nurture a new generation versed in critical thinking. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, governments in the region have increasingly stifled expression.

Schools across the Arab world face other obstacles as well. A 2015 study by the U.N. culture and education agency UNESCO talked about chronic underfunding, a lack of qualified teachers and increased class sizes throughout the region.


Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner possible next chief of staff: US media
Sri Lanka PM Mahinda Rajapaksa to resign, says his son after court setback
Ceasefire for key Yemen port agreed at peace talks: UN
Britain's May sees no 'immediate breakthrough' at EU
Khashoggi, other journalists named Time 'Person of the Year'
May tours Europe in desperate bid to save Brexit deal
Trump's potential next chief of staff pick leaving White House
UK PM faces fight for her political life in Brexit deal
Iran arrests 10 over suicide attack on police
Trump chooses new Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, against Mattis wishes
Merkel gets boost with ally's party win
Rouhani warns weakened Iran less able to fight trafficking
Trump may nominate Heather Nauert as UN Ambassador: Reports
Qatar injects more cash into Gaza for Hamas employees
Singer Mika Singh Detained in Dubai for Sending Obscene Messages to 17-year-old: Reports
Conditions Met for Assange to Leave Embassy in London, Says Ecuador President
Pakistan slashes non-salary budget by 10%
Moscow dismisses 'groundless' US claim Russia breaching arms treaty
AgustaWestland deal 'middleman' Christian Michel brought to India
Don't be like Hitler: sacked Lankan PM tells President Sirisena
ENTERTAINMENT NEWS
Vaikom Vijayalekshmi ties knot with Anoop
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Mohanlal's Odiyan: Official trailer launched
Mammootty narrates Odiyan's intro?
Sradha Kapoor as Saina Nehwal: First look poster is out.
KERALA NEWS
Activist Rehana Fathima, Who Attempted Sabarimala Trek, Arrested Over Facebook Post
 (Kochi, Nov 28, 2018): Model and activist Rehana Fathima, who tried to reach Kerala's Sabarim
Good news for Keralite Nurses: IELTS cut-off reduced to 6.5
BJP leader K Surendran, 71 others granted bail
Sabarimala protests: Arrests up to 2061, Kerala HC warns police
NATIONAL NEWS
Rahul Gandhi After Rafale Verdict: "Will Prove PM Helped Anil Ambani"
 (New Delhi, Dec 14, 2018):Hours after the Supreme Court's clean chit to the government on the
Author Amitav Ghosh Honoured With 54th Jnanpith Award
Poll results prove Ram Temple or communal polarisation doesn't cut ice with people: Sinha
Ashok Gehlot appeals to Cong workers in Raj to maintain peace
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