Palestinian Autonomous Territories and education: three years for coping with emergency education

Giacomo Pizzi7 February 2011

terra-santa-schools-scholarship_06A project developed jointly by ATS pro Terra Sancta, AVSI, the Custody of the Holy Land and Ephpheta Paul VI, all very much committed to and involved in education and social works, with the aim of promoting and supporting education in the schools of the Holy Land: Supporting emergency education in the Palestinian Autonomous Territories of Bethlehem, Jericho and East Jerusalem. Giovanni Nannetti, the project coordinator, explains the background and prospects for a project that seeks, over the next three years, to change teaching methodology in the Franciscan schools and improve educational techniques, and discusses the future prospects for more than 3,000 students.

How did the idea come about for a project focusing on emergency education in Palestinian schools?

The Custody has been actively engaged for a very long time in Palestine – beyond its own pastoral missions – in supporting a large number of social, relief, educational and cultural works. Such missions are directed not only at Christians but also Muslims and Jews, in an attempt to bring people together without regard to social class or religious belief.

For several years the Custody of the Holy Land has used Associazione di Terra Santa (ATS) as its operating institution for the implementation of specific projects, and for supporting works in cooperation with donor institutions, both public and private.

ATS works with a particular focus on the inhabitants of the Palestinian Territories: since 2002 ATS has carried out educational projects for students in East Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jericho, projects which have also had the objective of promoting integration of communities of different religious faiths.

AVSI for more than three years has been aiding the schools in Palestine operated by the Custody of the Holy Land.

The activities were undertaken in response to the numerous requests for assistance from the current Custos of the Holy Land, Pierbattista Pizzaballa. The AVSI program Support at a Distance (SAD), in support of the Bethlehem and Jerusalem schools, has already been in operation for some time, and with considerable success. The funds raised by SAD are used to support school attendance of students from poor families, who would otherwise be unable to pay the inscription fees for their children.

Does the complicated sociopolitical situation in the Territories influence the educational system?

Definitely, one should keep in mind that the need for the project arose precisely from the difficult and complex sociopolitical situation in which the Territories of the Palestinian Authorities find themselves.

The current living conditions are extremely difficult and uncertain: the closure of the Territories has brought about a level of unemployment of 55% of the total work force, while 50% of the population are considered to be below the poverty threshold. People are without hope, weak and vulnerable.

In such a situation it is children who pay the highest price, being deprived of basic needs as well as of their own childhood, and forced to grow up in an environment in which violence is the norm.

As far as the educational system is concerned, attendance rates are of the order of 80% in primary  and 65% in secondary schools. In qualitative terms, the average level of Palestinian Schools is low.

For this reason the need for a proper emergency education project was apparent, requiring decisive action. The project will seek to make an important contribution by helping to foster an education oriented towards dialogue and peace within the cities of Bethlehem and Jericho, and the Old City in East Jerusalem.

What are the principal activities that will be developed during the course of the next three years?

All those activities which can in any way increase and improve educational possibilities, while at the same time fostering cultural growth of the young students, the educators and the families, paying particular attention to those who are poorest and in particularly difficult situations.

The principal activities of the project will be focused in two areas: on restructuring of buildings and acquisition of school materials and equipment, on the one hand, and on educational activities, on the other, with the overall aim of improving the professional capacities of the teachers and the adults involved (social workers and parents), supporting school attendance of the poorest students, improving teaching methods and increasing the number and range of extracurricular activities.

How many schools will be involved?

The idea of the project is to involve in a systematic manner the entire frame of reference, that is, the students, teachers and families of the seven schools managed and supported by the Custody of the Holy Land in the Palestinian Autonomous Territories: Bethlehem (2 schools), Jericho (1 school) and Ephpheta (1 school).

More than 3,000 children will benefit from the project activities…

The project will involve more than 3,100 children between the ages of 3 and 17, plus approximately 300 teachers and youth workers, more than 200 mothers who attend the schools and take courses that are specifically aimed at them, and a total of about 1,040 families who will receive aid in the form of scholarships for their children. At least 550 students from primary and secondary schools and 240 university students among the poorest will be aided by scholarships.

How exactly will this be done?

The training component will focus on teachers and educators in order to improve the management of the schools and the pedagogical approach of the teachers, and to introduce new teaching methods as well as the use of computerized tools. The idea is also to encourage, through training activities, the development of a civic sense among the students, particularly in terms of increasing their awareness of environmental issues and of the particular problems related to the local context.

We want to begin specifically with training courses for teachers and educators, as requested by the directors of the schools, and with the supply of teaching materials and aids.

Which entities and organizations will be participating in this project?

We can definitely list the following:

Bethlehem University

Università Cattolica Sacro Cuore, Milan

Fondazione Sacro Cuore, Milan

The Coordinating Center for Christian Schools in Palestine

Jerusalem Educational Center

The parishes of Santa Caterina in Bethlehem and Saint Saviour in Jerusalem

Franciscan Centre for the Family, Bethlehem

Franciscan Children’s Home, Bethlehem

Technical and Economic Office, Custody of the Holy Land

La Federazione delle Opere Educative (FOE)

Edizioni Terra Santa

Studio Ingegneristico Mazzuchelli e Pozzi, Varese