Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Falling test scores try Palestinian educators

National achievement tests show, for example, that refugee students at UNRWA schools are outperforming many government-run schools. All Palestinian schools, except some private schools, use the same curriculum and Matar thinks the educational strategies of UNRWA teachers and administrators are responsible for students’ higher rates of success... al-Khouli, 9, in a technology class at al-Mu'tasem Elementary School in Gaza City. Suhair Karam/IRIN

Aref Husseini, who heads an education non-profit in Ramallah, believes that if teachers provided students with the skills necessary to research and gather information, they would do better on the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the international test where Palestinian scores fell between 2003 and 2007.

“Most of the questions on the TIMSS are related to critical and logical thinking. It has nothing to do with information or memorizing,” Husseini said. Learning by heart Newtons’ law and other laws of physical science will not help students pass the test if they cannot apply them.

Giving an example, Husseini said TIMSS asked students what would be left of a chair if all its atoms were taken away. He said that over 70 percent of students said the chair would still be there, instead of the correct answer: nothing. He argues that students are not using critical thinking skills and problem-solving to connect what they are learning in school with the wider world.

Husseini is the founder of Al-Nayzak for Extracurricular and Scientific Innovation, which runs after-school programs in Jerusalem and Ramallah that encourage students to think more critically.

Intesar Hamdan, a spokesperson for the Teacher Creativity Center in Ramallah, echoed other officials in saying that teaching methodology must improve in order to reverse the downward trend in Palestinian learning.

She said that teachers tend to rely on practices that reward students for memorizing lecture material. Students are evaluated based on their ability to remember information, rather than their ability to apply it.


Hamdan added that the student-to-teacher ratio is too high in many Palestinian schools, reaching forty-to-one at some government classrooms. In Gaza, schools run by the United Nations refugee agency, UNRWA, report 50 students in most classrooms. With high numbers of students, teachers find it more difficult to give students individual attention.

The shortage of classrooms is also acute in Area C in the West Bank, where Israel remains in control and blocks Palestinian construction. According to UNICEF, 10,000 students in Area C study in tents, caravans or tin shacks and one-third of schools have insufficient water or sanitation.

Schools built in Area C can be threatened with demolition, says Hamdan. According to the UN, at least 23 schools in Area C and East Jerusalem have demolition orders and could be destroyed at any time.

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