Issue No.
91, November 2005 Latest update 9 2014f August 2014, at 4.39 am
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Education in Bethlehem
By Dr. Jacqueline Sfeir

Education must provide the opportunities for self-fulfilment; it can at best provide a rich and challenging environment for the individual to explore, in his own way.


There are  103 schools in the Bethlehem district, 79% of which are private and are mostly concentrated in the cities. Just like all over Palestine, the schools in the Bethlehem district are operated by the government, private organizations and UNRWA. Formal schooling starts at the age of 6 to 18; "basic education" includes the first ten grades, and the secondary level includes grades eleven and twelve. Schools are mostly gender segregated and a few elementary schools are co-educational. There are 49 preschools in the Bethlehem district that are run by private organizations and charitable societies, and these are mostly co-educational and are supervised by the Ministry of Education.



The mosaic of schools in the Bethlehem district represents the diversity of its population: rural, urban and refugee communities. The rural schools serve the farming communities of the eastern and western countryside. In the small stretch of land constituting the district of Bethlehem you find in the eastern countryside what is reminiscent of the shepherds' field: a semi-arid landscape where shepherd boys (and some girls) roam the hills with their sheep. These children are educated both by the experience of herding as well as through formal schooling. On the other end of the district you find the western countryside green with vegetable coves and rocky hills full of adventure for those daring boys and not so many daring girls to explore. Most of the children in rural communities receive their education in the government schools and benefit from a range of curricular and extra curricular activities that are organized by the numerous national and international educational organizations working in partnership with the Ministry of Education.


The urban communities are concentrated in the cities of Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour and the most recent city of Al-Doha. The children in the cities are mostly exposed to the pilgrim and tourist industry associated with the Holy Land. The children around the holy sites encounter the groups of tourists who pass through their cities to visit the sites and bring to the children a glimpse of the world out there. As they try to communicate with the "visitors" those children learn how important it is to learn languages; they learn about commerce and tourism; they also learn to value their heritage. In addition to the formal schooling the children living in the urban areas of the district benefit from a multitude of opportunities provided by local NGOs offering a variety of educational, cultural, psychosocial and recreational activities and sports. Many of these organizations are associated with church organizations, others are secular and nationally based, and a few are affiliated with international organizations.



The children living in the refugee camps on the other hand find themselves living in overcrowded quarters, with some planted pots on the windowsills of houses that are growing haphazardly to accommodate the ever-growing population in small and restricted areas. Most of the refugee children today are second and third generation camp dwellers whose tradition is full of nostalgia and the hope of return. There are a number of initiatives from the camp communities, namely in Dheisheh and Aida camps, to establish educational, cultural and recreational activities to enrich the lives of the children living in the camp, such as the Ibda' Centre in Dheisheh camp (www.dheisheh-ibdaa.net) and Al-Rwad Centre in Aida Camp (www.alrowwad.virtualactivism.net).

recreational activities to enrich the lives of the children living in the camp, such as the Ibda' Centre in Dheisheh camp (www.dheisheh-ibdaa.net) and Al-Rwad Centre in Aida Camp (www.alrowwad.virtualactivism.net).

 Through the activities of such centres and others the children in the refugee camps in Bethlehem are provided with opportunities to experience music, drama and sports activities throughout the year. These centres also host international guests and have exchange programmes that allow the children (namely the youth) to develop an understanding of their unique reality and share it with the world. More needs to be done, however, on the level of breaking the psychological barrier between the refugee children and the children living in the cities around them.



In the city of Bethlehem a number of special education schools serve the entire district as well as children from other districts, namely Hebron. These include schools for the deaf, blind, the physically handicapped and mentally and educationally challenged children. Some schools have started to mainstream children with special needs. However, the existing services do not correspond to the degree of need that has increased drastically as a result of the political violence experienced by the children in the district in the past five years.



The educational activities organized by the local NGOs outside the formal system of education, like the aforementioned centres in Dheisheh and Aida camps, play a significant role in enriching the children's lives and in providing them with opportunities to experience their creative potential and expand their horizon. Of course the provision of non-formal education is not as extensive as the formal education system; however, it contributes to the overall development of the educational scene in the district. The following are more examples of non-formal education programmes available in the Bethlehem district:



The Palestine Wildlife Society (www.wildlife-pal.org) is a specialized organization established in 1999 in Beit Sahour. Its mission is the conservation and enhancement of Palestine's biodiversity and wildlife. Some of its work includes eco tourism, bird watching and environmental education through which it advocates the concepts of children's environmental rights.
The Holy Land Trust, a Palestinian organization established in 1998, runs a number of projects to promote peace and reconciliation. The Peace and Reconciliation programme works to support the Palestinian society in facing and addressing the political, social and physical hardships currently confronting our families and
communities (www.holylandtrust.org)

www.wildlife-pal.org) is a specialized organization established in 1999 in Beit Sahour. Its mission is the conservation and enhancement of Palestine's biodiversity and wildlife. Some of its work includes eco tourism, bird watching and environmental education through which it advocates the concepts of children's environmental rights.
The Holy Land Trust, a Palestinian organization established in 1998, runs a number of projects to promote peace and reconciliation. The Peace and Reconciliation programme works to support the Palestinian society in facing and addressing the political, social and physical hardships currently confronting our families and
communities (www.holylandtrust.org)


The International Centre of Bethlehem's Art Installation: Advocacy Tool for Youth Concerns Project is another example of non formal programmes that are linked to national initiatives and supported by external funding. The project was started on May 1, 2004 and was completed on June 30, 2005, funded by Tamkeen. The project empowers young people to identify their concerns and prioritize their issues, to develop creative means of expressing and communicating them with other youth as well as a wider group of stakeholders, and to proactively present issues of concern of this biggest segment of the Palestinian society in the public discourse and agenda. This educational process is crucial for any attempt at democratization and governance. By working with the youth, especially the youth of the rural areas and refugee camps, the project targets an important yet neglected segment of the Palestinian society and at the same time potential future leaders. (www.annadwa.org/cave/installation)



These are but a few examples of a wide range of non-formal educational activities that are available to a varying degree to school-aged children across the Bethlehem district. It is also important to mention in this context that there is a visible increase in the percentage of children who have Internet access and who have computers either at home, in the school or in the community through commercial Internet centres or through cultural centres and libraries.


Jacqueline Sfeir is the Programme Director of the MaDad for Childhood Programmes. She can be reached at js@madad.ps

Jacqueline Sfeir is the Programme Director of the MaDad for Childhood Programmes. She can be reached at js@madad.ps

1 UNRWA stands for United Nations Relief and Works Agency; it runs schools for the Palestinian refugees. There are three refugee camps in the Bethlehem district, 19 in the West Bank. There are almost 600,000 refugees in the West Bank, 27% of whom live in the camps, comprising 30% of the West Bank's population.
2 The Civil Society and Democracy Strengthening project known as Tamkeen • "empowerment" in Arabic • is a five-year activity aimed at preserving the "political space" occupied by Palestinian civil society organizations and promoting their crucial role in public discourse. Through grants, capacity building, and technical assistance, Tamkeen supports 103 civil society organizations, giving voice to Palestinian aspirations for human rights and the rule of law in a future democratic state
(
www.tamkeen.org).


Article photos by MaDad for Childhood Programmes

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