Educational Reform and Meaning Making in Palestinian Schools: An Ethnographic Study of Six Public Schools
Primary Researcher: Nader Wahbeh Teacher-Researcher Team: Amal Qattawi, Firas Naser, Fuad Tamaizeh, Huda Milhim, Mohammad Shaheen, Mutasem Atrash
Qattan Centre for Educational Research and Development A.M. Qattan Foundation
Acknowledgement Many thanks and appreciations to Dr. Andre Mazawi and Dr. Fouad Moughrabi for reviewing this report and giving the necessary corrections and feedback. We would like to thank all the teachers, principals, students, and supervisors who accepted to take part of this study, and facilitate the work of the researchers in their schools. We also would like to thank the Ministry of Education and Higher Education for giving us permissions to enter the targeted schools and facilitating the field work in those schools. Special thanks to Mr. Mohammad Abu Zaid, the Ministry Deputy for his support during the research and for supporting the idea of having teachers from the governmental sector to lead this research. Many thanks to the Director of the Directorate General For Supervision and Educational Qualification, Mr. Tharwat Zaid and his staff members for the comments and feedback they provided on the final draft of this report.
ABSTRACT This ethnographic research was held in six Palestinian public schools. Three schools were selected in each of the Ramallah and Hebron governorates: one in a city, another in a town and the third in a village. The schools were visited during the second semester of the school year 2009/2010. Semi-structured interviews with teachers, principals, supervisors and students were conducted in each school. The fieldwork also involved classroom observations, a questionnaire and a social network mapping tool. Findings were corroborated and triangulated with additional collected artifacts for analysis including letters, exams and other documents Results indicate that the educational reform in Palestine that began with the publication by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MoEHE) of a five year-strategic plan (2008 – 2012) imposed different expectations and understanding of roles amongst teachers, students and principals on one hand and, on the other, the Ministry offices with its supervisory system and operational offices. There seems to be a disconnection between participants’ understanding of their roles, constructed through their everyday interactions, and MoEHE expectations, which are driven by the rationalisation procedures stipulated by the so-called ‘means-ends’ reform model. The processes of professionalisation, standardisation and testing which are the major characteristics of the reform seem to impose a more centralised system which is against the essence of the reform goal resembled outlined in the strategic plan. Furthermore, this approach to reform is disenfranchising teachers from good quality and aesthetic teaching and learning opportunities and reducing the everyday practices of teachers and students to a set of technical and rationalised norms. Results also show that, in spite of such conditions, there are signs of agency among teachers, students and principals that need to be supported and empowered. A set of recommendations are presented at the end of this study. CONTEXT OF THE STUDY Students’ low achievements in the national and international examinations during the years 2007 and 2008 infused the public debate about the quality of education in occupied Palestinian territories (OPT), and necessitated new measures by the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MoEHE) in relation to quality and performance. The success ratio of tenth grade students in the Arabic National Exams for the school year 2007/2008 was 34%, and the ratios in mathematics and science were 4% and 18% respectively (Assessment and Evaluation Department, MoEHE, 2008). These percentages are especially alarming when compared to the 1999/2000 scores which were 50% and 10% in, respectively, the Arabic language, mathematics, (The General Administration of Planning, MoEHE, June, 2007). This dramatic decline in students’ scores after more than 8 years of heavy investment in the Palestinian educational system was also registered in the International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)1 for 2007. Sixty one percent of students scored below the low benchmark in mathematics and 54% in science, compared to 54% in mathematics and 34% in 1
TIMSS is an international assessment of the fourth and eighth grade students’ knowledge in mathematics and science, and was developed by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) to allow participating countries to compare students' achievement on these two subjects.
science in 2003. Out of the 49 participating countries in TIMSS 2007, Palestine ranked 43rd in mathematics and 45th in science. For many, these results were not surprising. During the period 2001 to 2005, the West Bank and Gaza continued to suffer from Israeli occupation. Incursions, siege, closures and restrictions on travel were intensified. The segregation wall which cuts through the West Bank led to further isolation of many Palestinian cities and villages. All this made the mission of improving the educational system more difficult than ever before. The internal infighting in 2007 which led to Hamas taking control of the Gaza Strip, including its educational system, further exasperated the educational development efforts. In spite of this dire situation in OPT over the last ten years, the MoEHE with support from the local community and donor countries was able to implement part of its first five-year strategic plan (2001 – 2005); this included building and equipping new schools, developing a Palestinian curriculum for the first time, adopting a strategy known as “Learning for All”, and making attempts to improve the supervisory system in support of teachers. In addition, hundreds of workshops and training programmes were held for in-service teachers in an attempt to improve their classroom practices. As a result, there was a drop in the illiteracy rate in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to 6.1% for ages 10 and above, which is considered significant when compared to 11% for the same age group in 1997 (Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 2008). There was also a decline in elementary level dropout rates, an increase in female enrolment in schools and a decrease in the student/teacher ratio. However, the policies and approaches of the MoEHE were highly deficient. Research has shown that the MoEHE has followed a highly centralised system with strict hierarchy in running its schools (Al-Ramahi & Davis, 2002; Palestine Economic Policy Research “MAS”, 2010). The new Palestinian Curriculum was criticised by many educators as being culminated in a set of traditional mandated textbooks that are arranged into separate subjects and units (Al-Ramahi & Davis 2002; Jerbawi & Nakhleh, 2008; Moughrabi, 2002). For example, the analysis of science textbooks showed that they appear to transfer a body of knowledge, and tend to focus on scientific product rather than on the process of scientific discovery and investigation (Brown, 2001; Moughrabi, 2002; Wahbeh, 2003, 2009). Not only were the training programmes held by the MoEHE compulsory, but they were irrelevant to teachers’ realities and counterproductive in changing teachers’ beliefs and practices (Wahbeh, 2003; MAS, 2010). A study by the Palestinian Cabinet (Afounah, 2010) raised questions about the effectiveness of the training programs held by the MoEHE through its supervisory system on teachers’ professional development. The role of the supervisory system is seen by teachers as an “inspection” rather than a supportive system for their professional development (Khaldi & Wahbeh, 2002). In the end, the MoEHE prioritised building new schools and renovating existing ones, while giving minimal attention to the quality of education (Hashweh, 2001; Rihan, 2001; The World Bank, 2006). A comprehensive report by UNESCO (Nicolai, 2007) criticised the curriculum, the training programmes and the evaluation system, especially the Tawjihi exams, indicating that they all stand as obstacles to real “quality” reform.
A comprehensive diagnostic report focusing on quality issues was published in 2007 by the MoEHE emphasising the alarming condition of the status of education in Palestine (MoEHE, 2007 a). This situation led donor countries to raise many questions about the efficacy of the educational programmes they have been financing over the past eight years through the MoEHE. Consequently, a new five-year strategic plan (2008 – 2012) was developed with a main focus on improving the quality of education in Palestine including a comprehensive review of the curriculum, a move toward decentralisation of the system, linking education to the labour market, and increasing partnerships with UNRWA, NGOs and the private sector (MoEHE, 2007b). In addition, a five-year strategic plan for teacher development was also launched. It called for evaluating and improving teacher education programmes in colleges and universities, as well as in-service teachers’ professional development programmes. The MoEHE defined quality in education as “improvement in student achievement, especially in Arabic, maths, science and technology; and acquisition of life skills in addition to improving students’ services and extra-curricular activities” (MoEHE, 2007b, p:33). As a result, a high stake standardised testing approach was adopted to measure students’ achievement in different subjects. The goal according to Ministry officials is to raise students’ achievement on tested subjects by 20 percent by the year 2014. In addition, a set of standards for the teaching profession was developed by the MoEHE which define the professional responsibilities of teachers at the novice and expert stages of their careers, a scale that, according to MoEHE officials, might be connected to a salary scale in the future and may help in improving the status of the teaching profession. The education sector is currently receiving funds and support from different organisations and international parties such as UNESCO, the World Bank, USAID, and the European Community to facilitate the implementation of the reform plan. The interaction of the new reform policy with the daily life practices inside Palestinian schools is being studied in an attempt to understand how people inside these schools make meaning of their practices. PURPOSE OF THE STUDY Within the context of the aforementioned educational reform plan, this study aims at delving deep into the everyday practices of six public schools to understand how teachers, students, principals and other stakeholders make meaning of their roles in light of such decisions under the new reform. The research aims at answering the following questions: - What does it mean to be a teacher, a student, a principal in a Palestinian school, taking into consideration the socio-political context and the new reform? - How do participants in this study understand their roles? How do they view the role of the curriculum; the professional development programmes offered by the MOEHE and by other institutions? How do they understand the role the community? - What do the daily life practices look like in a Palestinian school? (This question includes a description of daily routines, rationalisation of practices, narratives, autonomous 5
versus authoritarian messages and practices, hierarchal discourse, relationships, individualisation vs. collaboration, team work, labels, etc.). What are the mechanisms through which ideas, decisions, knowledge, rules and regulations are communicated between members of the school community? How do members of the school community perceive the content of ideas and rules, and the mechanism by which they are communicated? How are ideas, knowledge and rules negotiated inside the school? What signs of “agency”, that is, signs of power to make choices and differences within structural contexts that are imposed by the reform? How do the educational system and decision-making processes imposed from outside school borders (at MOEHE level) affect the daily teaching and learning practices inside the targeted schools? How much autonomy do schools have relative to the upper levels of the system? To what extent, if any, is decentralisation practiced? At what level does the communication and interaction between the targeted schools and the local community take place? What are the major effects of such interactions on decision-making inside the school and at the level of the MoEHE? METHOD
Sample A sample of six public schools at the basic level (ie grades 1-10), three in Ramallah district and three in Hebron district were selected taking into consideration geographic dispersion. One of the targeted schools included secondary levels. Table 1. Schools Information School Name (Abbreviation)
Location (Village, Town, City)
No. of Students
No. of Teachers
(18 computers & more)
Library (More than 600 books)
1 – 12
Yes, fair condition
Yes, well equipped
Yes, fair condition
(except grade 3 & 4) 1-10
Yes, good condition
sized Yes, well equipped Yes, well equipped
Participants Teachers, principals, supervisors, students and family members in each targeted public schools. Researchers A team of researchers composed of the principal researcher (the author of this report) and six teachers (teacher-researchers) worked on research. The six teacher-researchers teach in schools near the targeted schools, and undertook extensive training sessions in research methodologies, data collection and analysis, as well as sessions related to epistemological issues, such as the role of the researcher as both insider and outsider. The teacher-researchers visited the targeted schools once and sometimes twice a week throughout the second semester, 2010, and spent the whole school day in these schools during these visits. Data collection tools
The following data collection tools were used in the study: Classroom observations (audiotaped/videotaped) Interviews (audiotaped) Reform Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP) questionnaire (Piburn et al, 2000) Social Network Instrument (Haythornthwaite, 2006)
In addition to the collection of artifacts such as lesson plans, exams and quizzes, letters related to notes, decisions, mission, goals, objectives, achievements, and invitations to professional development programmes. Methodology Observations Ten classes in each school were observed and audiotaped. Fieldnotes were gathered during the observation process. Observations focused on core subject matter taught such as social sciences, general science, mathematics and Arabic. A total of 60 classroom observations with related fieldnotes were collected.
Semi-structured Interviews Four teachers in each school were interviewed once, each for 30-40 minutes. Another set of interviews were held with the principals, supervisors, groups of students and family members in each targeted school. Post-focus group interviews These focus group interviews were conducted with teachers and principals in three of the targeted six schools to brief them on the study results and plan for future interventions to facilitate change. Reform Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP) Questionnaire The RTOP was developed as an observation instrument to study classroom instruction in mathematics and science. This tool was used in this study to evaluate instructions in other subjects such as history, geography and languages. Social Network Instrument This instrument was used to identify with whom participant teachers exchange knowledge, and by what means. Teachers were asked to list five people from whom they learned, and five they felt they had benefitted from the most. The instrument also asks teachers about the most five important resources they learn from in their field of specialisation. According to Haythornthwaite (2006), in order for the interdisciplinary approach to happen, teachers need to communicate knowledge in their fields with others, and one way to do that is to make the knowledge as explicit and accessible as possible through weekly meetings, lecturing, training programmes and so forth. Haythornthwaite argues that “knowledge shared will be of primary importance in interdisciplinary teams.” This is specifically important in the lower grade levels where the interdisciplinary approach in teaching and learning has been adopted by the MoEHE, although with limited application. Artifacts A sample of teachers’ lesson plans, quizzes and tests were collected together with internal letters such as the school mission, goals, objectives, letters related to notes, decisions, and invitations to professional development programmes. Data analysis Audiotapes were transcribed and analysed in an attempt to search for excerpts related to (a) pedagogical practices and roles (b) challenges and complaints (c) meaning making (d) power and authority discourse and practice, and (e) evidence of “agency”. Audiotapes related to the interviews were transcribed and analysed based on the aforementioned topics in the
interview section. Data were triangulated with classroom observations through selected excerpts. The RTOP questionnaire was translated into Arabic, and piloted using three videos of exemplary classroom teaching. The three filled RTOP questionnaires related to the videos were studied, and an inter-reliability factor of 0.8 was reached. The social network instrument was analysed and a final network diagram for each school was established. Finally, fieldnotes together with the collected artifacts were analysed and corroborated with the selected audiotape/videotape excerpts to search for evidence of the relationship between beliefs and practices, evidence of success and challenges, evidence of “agency”, conditions that led to the manifestations of “agency”; challenges on the level of daily practices and the level of inter- and intra-decision making processes. Artifacts were also analysed and triangulated with other data sources to answer the research questions. RESULTS More than 550,000 students are studying in around 1,500 public school in the West Bank. A typical school day for a teacher starts at 7:45am every day and ends at 1:40pm. Students start their day in the school in the morning queue, read the National Anthem and listen to the presentations of their colleagues about various topics, and then enter their classrooms at around 8:00am where teaching and learning starts following an assigned schedule. Students spend a total of 6-7 hours per day and a total of 185 day per year in the school. The daily interaction within these working hours provides a space for meaning making between the everyday practice of each of the human elements and the conditions of the new reform. Results of this research show that this reform approach is paradoxical. On one hand, it may show very fast results in terms of achievement and scores, while it may also have its negative consequences on education at the long run. Results are discussed under the following topics and are summarised in Appendix 4 and 5. The supervisory system: A controversial role Since the establishment of the Palestinian Ministry of Education in 1994, the educational supervisory system in Palestine passed through several changes. The Directorate General For Supervision and Educational Qualification (DGSEQ) has been established and efforts have been made to redefine the role of supervisors towards support rather than ‘inspection’, the approach that was dominant during the Israeli occupation. According to the DGSEQ (MoEHE, DGSEQ, 2009/2010), the significant change in the system took place between 1996 and 2005, during which new roles for supervisors were developed to include preparing training materials, leading training programmes for teachers and school principals and curriculum enrichment, in addition to their major role of evaluating teacher practices by classroom visits once or twice a year. Another major change was redefining the role of the school principal to include a supervisory role - “a local supervisor” - thus 9
becoming responsible alongside the supervisors for evaluating teachers’ practices at their schools. Starting in 2006, two new roles for supervisors have been established: The “resident supervisor” who is responsible for supervising, evaluating and supporting teachers and principals that are located in a cluster of 3 to 5 schools; second, the “friend supervisor” or the “specialisation supervisor”, who works with the teacher to improve teachers’ practices on a specific subject matter. In late 2008, a new supervisory programme was introduced entitled the “Comprehensive Follow-up” and, according to the DGSEQ, the main role of this programme is to “achieve discipline inside each element of the educational system” (MoEHE, DGSEG, 2009/10: 41). Accordingly, “expert supervisors” work on a list of evaluation procedures for the targeted school such as interviewing students and principals, making observations related to schools’ environments, following up students’ scores and achievement with concerned teachers, and conducting discussion session with teachers and parents in relation to students’ scores in an attempt to develop remedial plans (MoEHE, DGSEG, 2010). Expert supervisors are responsible for evaluating teachers’ pedagogies, plans and testing procedures according to specific criteria. Supervisors in this system report to the DGSEQ through a comprehensive evaluation form which includes a percent score on each of the following dimensions: school principal, teachers, students, and school environment. An overall score is included for each school followed by notes and recommendations on each dimension which are sent to the targeted schools for follow-up (DGSEG, 2010/2011). Supervisors’ conceptions of their role. Supervisors understand their career as supportive of teachers in their professional development and as an official channel of communication and follow-up between the MoEHE and teachers in terms of decision-making and regulations. One participant supervisor explained: “My job is to see the strength and weaknesses of the teacher, analyse his classroom practices, and decide at what points the teacher need training programmes to tackle his weakness” (SM: 13/5/10 ). Another supervisor added: “I’m there with the teacher to exchange knowledge, transfer my knowledge to the teacher, exchange ideas with him and take these ideas to other teachers” (SH: 12/4/10). Part of supervisors’ duties is to arrange for classroom visits, observe, and write a report on teachers’ practices with assessment against four levels: “excellent, very good, good, and fair,” and matched with the evaluation of the school principal. According to supervisors, teachers were judged based on the following expectations: “Doing all that is requested from him by the MoEHE and Education Directorate, arranging his files and his lesson plans, administering and controlling his classroom, implementing the lesson accurately, demonstrating appropriate behaviour and relationships with students, having a good impact on the school and on students” (SF: 22/3/10). One supervisor explained: “I am responsible for evaluating the teacher either through classroom visits or by the overall evaluation and follow up the rewards based on the evaluation” (SMS: 12/6/10). The overall evaluation according to the supervisor is through talking to students about teachers’ practices, checking his/her notebooks and plans, evaluating the learning environment and so forth. 10
The rewards according to the supervisors are not financial but symbolic such as supporting the teacher in his/her request to transfer to administrative jobs (ie to be a supervisor or a principal). The supervisor explained: “We usually send a letter of thanks to the distinguished teacher… we know that this is not enough, we always support teachers’ rights for financial support.” He added, “Because there are punishment measures for reluctant teachers, there should be rewards - especially financial rewards - for distinguished teachers. Unfortunately this does not exist in our system” (SMS: 12/6/10). Another supervisor has a different point of view. He said that his satisfaction is met when he sees teachers active, creative and enthusiastic about his/her profession, and contributing to the subject. He gives an example: “Once I observed a class in which a teacher was teaching about animal camouflage. Her performance was very bad, and all of the time she was lecturing. But at the end of the class, she conducted a wonderful activity: she brought a large green cartoon and a picture of a green butterfly made from the same cartoon and put the butterfly on the cartoon, and we were barely able to see it. I consider this creativity. I kept it in my mind to use it with other teachers.” (SM: 13/5/10) Supervisors recognise that they share the authority to suspend teachers from their work if they “(are) not doing well” in the teaching profession. One supervisor explains: “If a teacher is doing badly, I can show this in my evaluation report, and if his evaluation is bad for three continuous reports, I will recommend his suspension”. He continues, “Such cases happen every year with those new teachers who have little experiences and those who are not in a fixed-base job yet” (SFO: 29/3/10). It is worth noting that to suspend a teacher, it requires a delegation and the agreement of a committee of four supervisors and the principal. Sometimes supervisors try to reach an agreement with teachers, especially with those in fixed job positions, as one supervisor explains: “It is better to sit with the teacher and solve his problem; ask him to do specific things in order to avoid any further measures” (SF: 22/3/10). Another supervisor talked about how he asked a mathematics teacher to go back and teach his eighth graders the basics of Arabic language first before he starts teaching them mathematics. He continued: “Others may find this decision not within my jurisdiction, however, I insisted because I know that students who can’t read can’t do well in mathematics, and I’m glad that I took this decision because it worked” (SMS: 12/6/10). Teachers’ ideas and understanding about the supervisors’ roles. From teachers’ perspectives, the relationship with their supervisors is tense. Some teachers look at the role of supervisors as threatening to their career since their job is to evaluate teachers’ practices. Some teachers stated that their supervisors still maintain the inspection role, that is, searching for teachers’ mistakes and determining whether they covered the textbook or not. One teacher said: “After he (the advisor) finished observing my class, he asked me why I’m behind the schedule, and put it as a negative point in his form” (MT3: 10/5/10). Another teacher said that “ the relationship should be based on supervision rather than inspection as it is now…the issue of 11
ranking teachers as good, fair, and so on always worries me and it may cause frustration” (FT2: 4/4/10). Another teacher commenting on her supervisor’s visit said that she changes her lesson plan and practices during the evaluation visits just to please the supervisor. She continued: “I didn’t like what I did in that day, even the students told me that my lesson was boring”, explaining that she had to follow the expectation of the supervisor in terms of following the exact goals listed in the textbook (Focus group, 11/10/10). Another teacher complained about the inconsistency of the supervisors’ requirements and evaluation. She added: “I’ve been following my lesson plans for nearly six years and according to what my previous supervisor wants and now, when a new supervisor was assigned to me, she asked me to change all my work”. (Focus group, 9/10/10). Other participant teachers, especially new teachers (three years of experience or less) see their supervisors as a source of knowledge, either in terms of content or pedagogy. One teacher said that she would not mind for someone like the supervisor to observe her and give her feedback. She continued: “Sometimes her presence in my class is very important since there are subjects in the curriculum that need explanation and support…and after her visits, I sit with her to discuss my class and to have feedback on those subjects that lack information” (FT4: 6/4/2010). Teachers’ ideas about the training programmes. The supervisory system plays a major role in identifying teachers’ professional needs and accordingly, supervisors plan for the training programmes. Training programs according to the DGSEQ training manual (MoEHE, DGSEQ, 2010/2011) focus on the following topics: Preparation of new teachers, Classroom Administration, Educational Planning, Educational Evaluation, ICT and learning, Inquiry, Using Laboratory in Teaching, CORT program for Thinking Skills, Portfolios, Citizenship, The International Law, Human Rights, in addition to workshops on teaching the subject matter (ie. Teaching English, Mathematics, Arabic, etc.). When asked about the efficiency of these programmes, only 30% of the participant teachers said that they benefited a lot from those programmes that were related to subject matters and from programmes that open spaces for exchanging experiences with other teachers, especially those that focus on presenting case studies, models in teaching, and exemplary classroom teaching. Teachers also mentioned that they benefited a lot from those training programmes that were related to assessment and evaluation. One teacher said in relation to this kind of training program that he attended: “I learned how to develop exams and find their internal validity and reliability” (FT4: 14/3/2010). Another teacher said that she found the programmes related to technology and internet very useful for her teaching. Teachers emphasised the importance of the training programmes as they start their career. Teachers explained that supervisors play a major role in defining teachers’ professional needs in terms of training, and organise for and sometimes conduct training programmes that meets such needs. One teacher said: “My supervisor always supports 12
me and invites me to come with her to conferences and forums, and asks me to participate in different workshops” (MST4: 20/4/10). However, the majority of the teachers (70%) felt that the training programmes offered by the MoEHE were not useful, do not offer any new knowledge, are traditional in terms of ideas and practices, are not relevant to what they teach, and are disconnected from reality. For example, one teacher said: “I took a training course about learning portfolios, and I didn’t learn anything new about it and I wished I never attended” (FOT2: 13/4/10) Teachers complained from the services offered by the organisers, such as the lack of transportation refund and low quality food service. Most teachers also complained about the authoritarian way instructors; who are mostly supervisors, treat teachers attending the training programme. One said: “They (the supervisors) treat us like children” (FT3: 3/7/2010); another said that these programmes are not efficient “because the trainers are not qualified enough to run such programmes, in addition to the inadequacy of the time and space” (FT1: 15/4/2010). An Arabic teacher complained about a training course given by a supervisor about content analysis of Arabic textbooks, saying: “They brought an analysed text taken from Elia Abu Madi (a writer) and started to read and analyse the text in a very traditional way; the trainer brought the a PowerPoint slides was reading from them. We didn’t come to read, we came to work and understand from each other” (AT2: 19/4/2010). The supervisory system adopted the cascade model in the training programs. In this model, few teachers are trained on various topics and modules and these teachers would then be responsible for the training and development of other teachers. Teachers explained that this model is not efficient due to the unqualified supervisors and teachers who are transferring the ideas and experiences from the original module to subsequent ones. Teachers compared the training programmes offered by the MoEHE with those of other educational institutions, expressed their satisfaction with these latter programmes. They reported that these other institutions offer new methodologies in teaching that enrich the subjects in the curriculum. Teachers said that such training programmes consider teachers as productive individuals who publish, participate in conferences and share knowledge acquired with others. One teacher who had attended a training programme offered by one of the Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) on “Woman Empowerment” said: “It was a five days workshop and it was useful. I used it in my civic curriculum,” (FOT1: 22/4/10). Another teacher commented on a drama course: “In this programme, trainers worked with us closely, provided us with main ideas and skills. They didn’t leave us alone in the class; they did follow-up so that we learn during teaching in our classrooms” (AT2: 19/4/2010). In summary, there are controversial ideas about the role of the supervisory system. In spite of the efforts the DGSEQ is doing to change supervisors’ roles and missions, tension and anxiety are still governing the relationship between teachers and supervisors due to the authoritarian nature of this system. Results show that the whole concept of supervisor in the way it is structured is problematic. The role of supervisors follows a centralised approach which 13
negates the teachers very ability and capacity to organize themselves in communities of practice and learning to enhance their own teaching and engagement with education.
A controversial evaluation system Teachers are required to conduct three exams when students reach grade 4. The first is the National exam that aims at diagnosing the educational situation in the field and developing policy studies and intervention programmes by the MoEHE based on the results of these exams. The second is the Ministry exam, which aims at monitoring students’ performance in Arabic languages, science and mathematics. The third exam is the Directorate’s exam which are mainly conducted twice throughout the academic year. Other occasional exams include the international exams such as the International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Half of the participant teachers felt positively about the exams offered by the MoEHE. Teachers believed that such exams are good for identifying students’ ability, encourage the students to study and to know where he/she stands in relation to the subject. In addition, those teachers believed that the exams encourage teachers to do their utmost in order to fulfill the curriculum requirements. One teacher said: “I support those tests in order to put our hands on the symptoms of weakness among students, and they provide feedback on our practice” (FT2: 4/4/10). Another teacher explained that these tests are important since they “require us to finish the curriculum” (FT4: 14/3/10). Teachers said that these exams are considered new since they mostly emphasise the multiple choice items together with essays and open questions, which help their students become acquainted with the similar style of the national and international exams and especially the General Secondary School Certificate Examination “Tawjihi”. As for those who do not agree with the evaluation strategy and testing said that these tests are higher than the cognitive level of the students, contains lots of mistakes, emphasise rote learning, enforce teachers to end the “dense” curriculum at the expense of students’ understanding and practising of their experiences. Teachers also talked about how the exams cause anxiety to students and parents. For example, a teacher said that “the Arabic Ministry exam for grade 4 was more than four papers, and students were stunned and scared” (FOT2: 8/4/10). Teachers confirmed that there are lots of questions in these exams that are replicated from those in the textbooks, indicating that they emphasise low thinking levels. When participant teachers were asked about the reasons behind students’ low scores in these exams, most participant teachers blamed the curriculum and the nature of the exams as most important reasons for these results. One teacher said: “The curriculum is too hard for students, and they at the end memorise the information just for passing the exam” (MST2: 23/3/10). Teachers believed that these exams were not reliable to measure the performance of students. One teacher explained: “The exams measures the ability of the students to memorise the subjects in the book since it repeats the questions in the textbook” (AT4: 28/4/10) indicating that the scores are actually an evaluation of the textbooks rather than the students. 14
Participant supervisors believed that the national and international exams and those related to the Ministry are important for having reliable results about students’ achievement. One supervisor explained: “most of our teachers are not qualified to do exams, therefore, we can’t rely on their exams anymore” (SF: 22/3/10). Another supervisor supported the exams by saying that “they help us to plan for our training programmes and for analysing the curriculum” (SM: 13/5/10). Principals on the other hand understand the exams as a supportive measure for raising students’ achievement. They believe that these exams, especially the National ones, will force teachers to cover the entire curriculum. However, they all agreed that there are lots of problems in administering the exams. First, they talked about the sudden announcement of the exams’ schedule just a week or two before the exams, which caused confusion and anxiety among students. Another example for bad administration of the exams according to the principals is the exchange of students’ answers among neighbouring schools to be corrected by other teachers. One principal explained: “this has caused some tension among teachers, they were worried about the validity of the scores being checked by other teacher in a neighbouring school” (PF: 3/3/10). Principals of lower elementary schools complained about the 4th grade exams. One principal commented: “Our 4th graders are used to tests made of one page or two. Students were surprised to see a five-page National exam, and didn’t know how to deal with it” (PH: 10/3/10). Another principal criticised the decision of applying the international exam TIMSS. She stated: “TIMSS is not prepared for our Palestinian people. We need an exam that considers the context that we are living in. This exam didn’t take into consideration students’ differences” (PA: 10/3/10). She added: “Unfortunately the National exams that come from the Ministry are long and dense with questions.” Another principal talked about how the examiners repeat what is in the textbooks, saying: “Does the Ministry want to measure the previous knowledge of the students or what they achieved? ...Most of the questions are repetitive” (PMS: 9/3/10), indicating again that these exams emphasise memorising and rote learning. A review of a sample of unified exams collected for this research revealed that most of the questions do not exceed the comprehension and application level of thinking according to Bloom taxonomy of thinking. Rarely did the questions asked students to analyse, criticise or evaluate knowledge. Appendix 1 includes sample questions of different unified exams. For example, one multilple-part question from the unified English exam for grade 6 shows how the questions emphasised the lower order thinking. This question also includes major linguistic mistakes. A teacher talked about how she was annoyed to read an essay in the 7 th grade Unified Arabic test describing a young teacher who came to teach in the village. The teacher explained that this paragraph meant to show how teachers are hard workers and should be respected, 15
however, it gives negative stereotypes about village residents. (See Appendix 1 test 2 and its translation on Appendix 2). She also talked about how this paragraph is totally the opposite of what she learned about new ways of teaching, that is, the teacher is a facilitator and not a source of knowledge as described in the essay. Officials at the MoEHE argue that the unified tests are designed to pinpoint students’ weaknesses in the tested subjects and to help with plans to address such problems. However, it is clear from this research that teachers are not aware of these Ministry goals. One document collected from the Directorate of Education in Southern Hebron shows that there is in fact a feedback and a follow-up to the test results. Appendix 3 includes pages from this document. For example, page 1 of the document (see Appendix 3, no. 1) relates to the Unified English Language test for grade 5, informing teachers that most students failed question number 4 related to pronouns, as well as on using propositions (in, on, at). Page two of this document summarises 4th graders’ mistakes in the mathematics exam such as in estimation, multiplication, pattern completion and other notes. This document that was sent to school principals urged teachers to work to tackle these specific problems in their lessons. Another document received from one of the targeted schools indicates that teachers in this school received pre-test suggestions and tips related to the forthcoming test’s content in order that these could be taken into consideration in their teaching practices. One page of this document (see Appendix 3, no. 4) reminded English teachers to engage students in conversations about their favorite food or game, concentrate on adjectives and adverbs, tell time, use drama, talk about jobs and so forth. It is worth noting that these documents are prepared by “subject” supervisors in the district. Supervisors play a major role in writing, planning and correcting the tests in cooperation with teachers, and the procedures that are followed in correction of some of the exams are similar to the procedures following in correcting the Tawjihi exam. A curriculum in crises Participant teachers consider the curriculum as a National achievement that one should be proud of. However, they complained about the number of units required to be covered each year compared to the number of classes assigned each year. They also complained about its relevance to students’ cognitive level. One teacher said of the science textbooks she teaches: “It is really crowded, and we had to cover it all, and sometimes we see that children are memorising the information. I wonder if they were able to arrange it in a different way like presenting the concepts with some lesson plans and ideas to each concept… that would help us more” (FOT1: 26/4/10) Another teacher explained more about the six grade textbooks saying that “most of what is in this textbook was presented in the ninth and tenth grade textbooks” (MST4: 20/4/10) indicating that the content is higher than students’ cognitive level. Another teacher in this context said: “The technology curriculum is not connected, and each unit has nothing to do 16
with the next one. It also requires us to use materials and resources that are not available in our school” (MST1: 23/3/10). Most teachers agreed that there is no integration between the textbook subjects. One teacher commented on the mathematics textbooks that he teaches: “In the seventh grade mathematics, there is a unit entitled triangles, uniformity and superposition, and it is repeated again in the eighth grade and this repetition is not necessary at all” (FT4: 14/3/10). In contrast to the higher elementary level, some teachers in the lower elementary levels (1-4) expressed contentment with the curriculum, saying that the textbooks in this level contain subjects that are very important for the child to know and are easy to teach. However, they also confirmed that the textbooks in such level, do not allow the students to think and to be creative. One of the lower elementary teachers said: “The textbooks that I teach are limited with the options and activities to activate childrens’ imagination and creative thinking” (MT1: 27/4/10). Another participant added: “We need a curriculum that connects the students with their political context, and works on the culture of students, not on rote learning and memorisation:” (AT3: 19/4/10). When asked whether they were allowed to add to or go out of the framework of the textbooks, the response – especially from those teaching in higher elementary levels–was that they have limited space to do that. Teachers explained that they were forced to follow the textbook, and finish all its subjects by the end of the school year. However, some teachers - especially those in the lower grades - said that they sometimes do some enrichment of the textbooks. One teacher explained: “When I reach the subject about honey, I coordinate with a parent who grows bees around his house and invite him to the classroom to explain more about how a bee makes the honey and how they collect honey” (FT3: 7/3/10). Teachers said that they refer to the internet most of the time to do some enrichment and to search for relevant activities. In relation to students’ ideas about the curriculum, participant students said that the textbooks are difficult and crowded with subjects, and that they barely have time to concentrate on the topics presented in the curriculum. Students talked about how they had to memorise to succeed in the exams. Yusra, a twelfth grader complained: “We are not machines, each class is 40 minutes of continuous study, and we have to finish the curriculum because of the Tawjihi, my capacity to study is limited, I’m not a machine” (StA: 2/5/10). Students also talked about how the curriculum leads them toward rote learning especially with the existence of the exams. For example, Khalil, a ninth grader, talked about his teacher’s strategy: “The problem is that teachers want us to write the exact words of the textbook. Once we asked him if we are allowed to put words of our own. He said, “No, you will lose points”…they want us to memorise” (StF: 25/4/10). Rami, a seventh grader, emphasised that issue and gave another example: “In my religion test, I once defined what the Al-Haj
(Pilgrim) is, and I wrote: “Going to Mecca” and the teacher puts it wrong, and when I talked to him about it, he said, you need to have the exact definition as in the book” (StF:25/4/10). As for supervisors’ ideas about the curriculum, half of them expressed their content about the textbooks. One supervisor said: “Our curriculum, especially the science textbooks, received the first grade in the Middle East competition in terms of the content, knowledge and research” and, he continues, “What you need is a committed teacher for such textbooks” (SM: 13/5/10). The other half of the supervisors were not satisfied with the textbooks, agreeing with the teachers’ opinions that they are condensed, higher than the level of the grade they target, and need modification and enrichment. One supervisor commented on how the curriculum does not take into consideration individual differences among students, saying that “We can’t say they (students) are slow learners, or retarded, what we can say about them is that they lost communication with the curriculum and the school” (SH: 12/4/10). Another supervisor blamed the curriculum for students’ low scores, saying that “students in grade one start with seven textbooks in each semester, which amounts to 20 pages per day for those children to learn” (SF: 22/3/10) ending with a recommendation to concentrate on mathematics and Arabic language at these levels (SF: 22/3/10). Many participating principals see the Palestinian curriculum as a national achievement that “supports national values and defines students’ duties toward their country” (PF: 3/3/10), nevertheless, they consider the curriculum a challenge to the educational process as one principal explained: “I taught both the Jordanian and the new Palestinian curriculum and I can see that the first is more flexible, clear and smooth in presenting the subjects than the new textbooks” (PMS: 9/3/10). Principals also agreed that the Palestinian curriculum is geared towards those students with high abilities. Textbooks and test-driven pedagogies Results of the observation and RTOP questionnaire analysis show that most observed teachers have relatively good content knowledge relating to their subject of specialisation. However, teachers lacked the appropriate pedagogical knowledge, that is, the methodologies to translate their knowledge into useful learning experiences. Teachers adopted traditional ways of teaching insofar as they took the role of ownership of knowledge rather than of facilitation, a mode directed toward a more behaviourist approach in teachings that contradicts with participating teachers’ constructivist and reflexive views inferred in their interviews. More specifically, results show that teachers used lecturing as the only way of communicating knowledge with students, even in contexts where subjects required inquiry and hands-on activities, lecturing was the predominant method of teaching. Teachers adopted the triadic mode of interaction (Lemke, 1990): Teachers used a structured initiate-response-evaluate (IRE) (Lemke, 1990) discourse patterns. In such a pattern, a teacher asks a question followed by students bidding to answer with teachers then choosing a 18
student to answer. After the student answers the question, the teacher evaluates the answer. Participating teachers used minimal resources and educational materials in their teaching. Most followed the textbook as the only resource, depending on the text, pictures, questions, activities and problems therein. Teachers’ questions posed to pupils were minimal and not intellectually challenging. The use of group work was minimal, and when it did take place, it did not allow for meaningful communication and exchange of ideas, knowledge and skills between group members; rather, it was more likely that students were working individually in their groups. Table 2 summarises teachers’ practices according to the RTOP themes and questions. Results indicate that students’ roles as active learners during the observed classes was minimal. In relation to lesson design, it was noticed that the strict adherence to the textbook content and order was an obstacle to teachers’ ability to direct the lesson toward students’ ideas, to support their investigation and exploration, and to engage them as active members of a learning community. Table 2: Teachers percentages in the RTOP questionnaire: RTOP Items and Questions LESSON DESIGN AND IMPLEMENTATION Q1: The instructional strategies and activities respected students’ prior knowledge and the preconceptions inherent therein. Q2: The lesson was designed to engage students as members of a learning community. Q3: In this lesson, student exploration preceded formal presentation. Q4: This lesson encouraged students to seek and value alternative modes of investigation or of problem-solving. Q5: The focus and direction of the lesson was often determined by ideas originating with students. CONTENT Propositional knowledge Q6: The lesson involved fundamental concepts of the subject. Q7: The lesson promoted strongly coherent conceptual understanding. Q8: The teacher had a solid grasp of the subject matter content inherent in the lesson. Q9: Elements of abstraction (ie, symbolic representations, theory-building) were encouraged when it was important to do so. Q10: Connections with the content of other disciplines and/ or real world phenomena were explored and valued. CONTENT Procedural Knowledge Q11: Students used a variety of means (models, drawings, graphs, concrete materials, manipulatives, etc.) to represent phenomena. Q12: Students made predictions, estimations and/or hypotheses and devised means for testing them. Q13: Students were actively engaged in thought-provoking activity that often involved the critical assessment of procedures. Q14: Students were reflective about their learning. Q15: Intellectual rigour, constructive criticism, and the challenging of ideas were valued.
64 28 42 33 25
86 44 78 33 44
36 31 31 22 44
CLASSROOM CULTURE Communicative Interactions Q16: Students were involved in the communication of their ideas to others using a variety of means and media. Q17: The teacher’s questions triggered divergent modes of thinking. Q18: There was a high proportion of student talk and a significant amount of it occurred between and among students. Q19: Student questions and comments often determined the focus and direction of classroom discourse. Q20: There was a climate of respect for what others had to say. CLASSROOM CULTURE Student/Teacher Relationships Q21: Active participation of students was encouraged and valued. Q22: Students were encouraged to generate conjectures, alternative solution strategies, and ways of interpreting evidence. Q23: In general the teacher was patient with students. Q24: The teacher acted as a resource person, working to support and enhance student investigations. Q25: The metaphor “teacher as listener” was very characteristic of this classroom.
28 31 19 22 82
42 33 83 44 50
Even though RTOP analysis showed that teachers’ scores in relation to the content knowledge is high, it showed that their procedural knowledge is very low. For example, participant teachers scored an average of 28% on lesson designs that engage students as members of a learning community. They also scored low average percentage in directing the lesson based on ideas from students (22 %) and on engaging students in thought-provoking activities and on critical assessment of procedures (31%). Teachers failed to provide their students with a context that enables them to be reflective about their learning (22%). Figure 1 and 2 compare the RTOP scores of two schools, B and N, in which school B achieved the highest RTOP scores while school N was the lowest. Teachers’ practices did not allow space for students to explore, reflect on, construct, criticise and communicate knowledge. Most of the time, students were passive learners. Students’ talk was mostly a response to teachers’ questions within the IRE system; questions that required few words to answer and these answers were most of the time written in the textbook. Often, teachers used the board as the only mode of representation while the use of models, concrete materials and graphs were minimal. In the following paragraphs, excerpts from classroom observations are presented to illustrate teachers’ practices and their pedagogical content knowledge (Shulman, 1986). The following excerpt is from the class of Fatinah (pseudonym), a seventh grade mathematics teacher in K school teaching her female students a lesson entitled “Representation of Frequency Table” from the Grade 7 mathematics textbook, page 140. T= Teacher, S(s)=Student(s), (number of students in class: 29): Excerpt 1: K school, 7th grade mathematics: “Representation of Frequency Table” 1 2
T: Who can list the ways to represent the geometrical schedules? S(s): Miss, Miss, Miss…
3 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
T: Yes Sana… S: Through frequency polygon histograms and scale histograms. T: Yes, from the frequency polygon and scale histograms. T(conts.): We learned about the first way (the polygon), and today we will take the second. Let’s do question 2 (frequency table on p. 142): What’s the number of employees who takes the highest salary? S(s): Miss, Miss, Miss… T: Rawan… S: Two T: Good, ok, let’s do the polygon histogram for this table. Who reminds me with the steps? S(s): Miss, Miss, Miss T: (pointing at a student) Yes go ahead S: (started to read the steps on P. 141) T: (interrupts) Close the book, all of you close your books S: (continues listing the steps as appeared in the textbook and teacher is drawing on the board following her steps) T: (the teacher finished solving q.2 on the board) Ok, write the solution in your notebooks. T: (copying what is on the board into their notebooks and after they finished…) Ok now, let’s go to the frequency scale histogram...(starts listing the steps of doing the scale as is in the textbook, reminding the students not to open their books)
Figure 1: Scores of school B across RTOP questions. This school achieved the highest scores compared to the rest of the schools.
Figure 2: Scores of school N across RTOP questions. This school achieved the lowest scores compared to the rest of the schools. This example shows how the teacher followed the triadic IRE mode of interaction. The example also indicates the passive role of students. Students during this lesson responded to the direct questions asked by their teacher, followed her steps of solving the problems, copied the solution into their notebooks, answered and followed the sequence of the lesson as presented in the their textbook. Students did not have the chance to discuss the lesson or explore the possibilities of connecting the presented ideas with real life situations. Excerpt 2 is a similar lesson taught by Samar, a tenth grade social studies teacher at school B where she followed exactly the geography textbook with minimal exploration. The lesson was about North America being one of the continents they previously studied (Geography textbook, 10th grade, P. 76). The unit contained lots of information about the location on the map, its topography and population. The lesson also lists the names of the rivers and mountains, and information about the main industry and agriculture. Excerpt 2: B school, 10th grade social science “Geography”: “The continent of North America” 1 2 3 3 4 5 6 7
T: Why do you think the population of North America is high? (Students were looking at the textbook, seems that they were searching for answers). S(s): Because of incoming immigration T:yes (repeats the answer) T: What are the main industrial products of North America? S: Heavy industry, textiles, food, weapons T: Heavy industry, like what? (students were talking to each other) S: (Loud voice for the teacher to hear) Planes. T: (After 20 minutes, and finishing talking about population, location, and industrial activities in North America, the teacher reminded her students of the mountains and their location according to the Latitude
and Longitude lines) Ok, the Appalachian Mountains, who can tell me their exact location? S: (Reading on P. 68 of the textbook) Extends from the north to the south on the east coast of this continent and one of its hills is Labrador. T: Excellent, one of its hills is Labrador.
The previous experts show how textbooks are dictating teachers’ practices. The discourse inside the classrooms was led by the sequence of the text in the unit. Students were reading from the text to answer their teacher’s questions, and the teacher was accepting those answers sometimes without elaboration or exploration. Teachers during their classroom discourse often reminded the students about the exams, and how they should deal with the questions, especially in the Secondary General Exam (Tawjihi). For example, Fadi, a 10th grade mathematics teacher in G School reminded the students twice of the Tawjihi exam as in the following excerpt: Excerpt 3: G school, 10th grade mathematics: “Simple Decline P. 71” 1 2
T: (A student was writing on the board solving question 1 on P. 72, and applying Spearman’s Equation) Now we need to find the unknown B. Find B and the decline line. T: (the student started to solve the problem when the teacher interrupted him) Write the equation first. Do you know why? To apply it. You will be in the eleventh grade next year and afterwards there is the Tawjihi, and if you don’t put the law or the equation, and don’t apply according the equation, you will lose points. Now, if your answer was wrong, at least you would get one mark for writing the equation. Continue. (The student found the answer to be 3X – ½ ) S: Teacher, is it 3X – ½ or 3x + - ½? T: it is the same, - always overcomes the +
Another example of how teachers reminded the students about the exams was in Sameer’s fifth grade history classroom. The lesson was about the Egyptian civilisation (P. 58 in the History textbook). Excerpt 4: G school, 5th grade History: “The Egyptian Civilization” 1 2 3 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
T: We have four achievements during the old Egyptian Civilization, who can list them? S: Teacher T:Murad S: Agriculture, science and mummification T: (didn’t accept the answer and chose another student) Mahmoud S: First: agriculture, second: currency, third: science, and fourth: mummification T: Excellent. We will start with agriculture. (Started to explain about the importance of the Delta) (Then he reached the currency) T: for the first time there was currency during this period. Why do you think they brought the currency? S: To sell and buy T: Excellent, without currency, can buying and selling occur? S: No T: So if I set a question in the exam: “The old Egyptian discovered the currency, why” what will your answer be? S: for buying and selling S: (correcting him) To use it for selling and buying.
The above excerpt shows how teaching-learning is exclusively formulated in relation to the exam, and not just merely reminding students of the exam, which may result in giving up on any meaningful learning. The previous excerpts may explain and complement the RTOP questionnaire results, that is, teachers played the role of owners of knowledge. Teachers seemed to follow the textbook and used the IRE mode of interaction as a way of managing the classroom. This context did not allow students to engage in their learning process, think about the presented subject, and work together to explore their learning. Many excerpts highlighted the weaknesses of the students on mathematics as in Excerpt 3 (line 2 & 4). However, there were teachers who tried to engage their students in meaningful learning situations, and scored relatively highly in the RTOP questionnaire. The following excerpt is from the class of Yousef, a fourth grade science teacher in R school teaching his students a lesson entitled “Planets and Stars” from grade 4 science textbook, P. 83. (number of students in class: 26): Excerpt 5: R school, 4th grade science: “Planets and Stars” 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27
T: Ok, who can tell me what results from the rotation of the planet around the sun? Ss: Teacher, Teacher T: Yes Mufeed S:The four seasons T: Excellent (then he showed them how the four seasons work on a mechanical model he brought in class. Then he moved to the “Planets” lesson) T: So the planets rotate themselves and around the sun and, because of these rotations, day and night and the four seasons happen. Ok, how many days do we have in a year? S(s): Teacher, Teacher T: Ok, Ra’ed. S: 365 T: 365 and a quarter of a day, do you know why? T: (continues) because February has 28 days, but it comes with 29 days each four years, so if we divide one over four, what is the result? Or add quarter (four times) what will the result be? Ss (no answer) T: What is the answer? (insisting to have the answer from the students/ S: One T: One, yes. It seems you all forgot your mathematics. We learned it. (The teacher continues asking questions about the planet earth and the percentages of water to land) T: Ok, let’s go back to the stars. Which is bigger, the planets or the stars? S: The planets (answering without bidding) T: Concentrate with me… if we say that the stars are bigger than the sun, and the sun is bigger than the planets, so again, which is bigger, the stars or the planets? S(s): The stars Ok, the stars. Let me ask you what are the benefits of the stars, what are the importance of stars (the answer is in the textbook) S1: We know our way at night S2: Know the destination (the teacher is repeating the answers for confirmation) S3: Know the time of planting the land T: Excellent…what else? S4: From the moon, in the month of Ramadan T: Good, but we are talking about the stars now…what else
T: (no answer) Do you know about constellations like the scorpion, the arc? T: (the teacher continued explaining about the constellations, and the bell rang) Next time, I will let you watch a video about space, and how the planets move.
In excerpt 5, even though the teacher followed the headings in the textbook, and adopted the triadic mode of interaction, it is noticeable that there was a space for students to think and to reflect on their learning. For example, lines 17 to 20 show how the teacher scaffolded studentsâ€™ learning about indirect relationships of sizes, therefore, allowing the students to compare, and reach their answers. In addition, the teacher integrated new subject matter with that in the textbook, and made appropriate connections with studentsâ€™ previous knowledge, and with other subjects (like connecting to mathematics in lines 22-26). Moreover, there were moments where the teacher allowed the students to answer without following the IRE system of interaction, especially at the end. During his class, the teacher used moving models representing the solar system and the rotation of the earth around the sun, thus helping students to understand the complex movement of the universe visually. As a result, students were able to express their ideas easily. Another lesson that scored high in RTOP was given by Rana, a ninth grade Arabic teacher in R School. The teacher used the main title of the lesson, and enriched it with new activities and learning aids. She adopted drama and role-play as a strategy to teach the lesson. She followed the inductive approach to help children learn about the laws of using prepositions in the Arabic language. She brought cards for students to pick from and analyse the sentence. In addition, she used a story from outside the text so that students were able to apply the lesson. Finally, she ended the lesson with a game, where she used a paragraph with mistakes, with the first group identifying these mistakes winning a prize. Students in this class worked with each other in groups, talked about their learning, reached conclusions by themselves and seemed to enjoy their learning process. The IRE mode of interaction in this class was minimal.
The Local Community: A Supporting Role Some of the schools included in this study do not have computer labs or libraries with good quality books or resources. Nearly all have limited budgets that barely cover stationery, equipment, computer maintenance if available, where applicable, and other consumables. In some schools, the computer and science labs are poorly equipped and photocopying and fax machines are outdated. For many teachers and principals in this study, budget constraints are a major challenge faced. It is worth noting that 90% if the MoEHE expenditures2 is for salaries, while the rest 10% is allocated toward textbooks, evaluation, and training. Most of these expenditures are provided by donors. Many teachers talked about how the lack of resources and equipped
Not including school building expenditures which mainly comes from local and international donors.
laboratories hamper their efforts to give a “good” class, believing that students need resources and models and other visual aids to engage in meaningful learning. Due to the lack of financial and educational resources in the studied schools, school principals seek the aid of the local community services and support such as the village council, the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), and Palestinian Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). There are lots of efforts from school principals (with the help of the MoEHE directorates) to communicate with the local community to seek funding. Reports from the World Bank (eg 2004) indicate that from 1994 until 1999, total contributions from the local community amounted to $11 million and were mostly headed to land contribution and school constructions. A total of 266 schools were constructed between 1994 till 2005, half were built by the local community (The World Bank, 2006). Principals in this study expressed their worries about the low budget they receive, and their concerns about meeting the needs of the students and teachers within this limited budget. One principal talked about how poorly equipped the science lab is, which has led the science teachers to buy basic things at their own expense to do activities and experiments in the classroom such as litmus paper, acid and bases and so forth. Another principal talked about an incident related to her computer lab: “Once the (MoEHE) chose our school to correct the fourth and the fifth grade exams, and when they figured out that we didn’t have enough computers, they left to go to another school” (PA: 10/3/10). The principal talked about her frustration at this incident, and her efforts – as yet unsuccessful - to secure funding for a new computer lab. Participating students talked about the unequipped science and computer labs in their school. Majdi talked about the situation of his school’s science lab: “In the lab, the teacher wanted two resonant tuning forks with the same frequency to show us how resonance works, but he only found one. He skipped the experiment and started to lecture about resonance” (StH: 28/4/10). Khalid from the same school talked about the computer lab: “I was transferred from a school where each student has his own computer; we used to work on our projects, and if we finish, we are allowed to work on whatever we want and have fun. In this school, there is one computer with one projector, and the teachers use it to explain the subjects to us, and we sit and listen.” (StH: 28/4/10) In this study, science teachers were mostly relying on demonstrations to explain a concept or a phenomena, or in conducting science activities. For example, one teacher in his classroom used a glass container filled with water and a wooden cube to explain the floating and sinking lesson and the buoyancy concept. During the follow-up interview he explained: “I wish I had enough equipments to let them work by themselves in groups and let them explore the phenomena,. I believe this is the way the lesson should be presented. Unfortunately, I don’t have them.” This lack of equipment and resources may partly explain the RTOP results, 26
especially the low scores of items 11 and 14, which are related to students’ engagement in exploration, thinking, and reflection. Another example of the challenges the schools face due to resource constraints is found in the case of school R and its ramshackle concrete fence. The school principal and the teachers were worried that this fence could fall any time and harm the students. They reported this situation to the Ministry Directorate office of education and the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). A PTA member talked about his efforts to contact the local community and the Directorate office to solve the problem, explaining: “We called the parents for donations but it seems they couldn’t afford a new fence. It costs no less than 50, 000 NIS ($14, 000), and we proposed other solutions such as supporting the fence with anchors, but we haven’t fixed it yet.” (MoPTA, 25/4/2010). The PTA plays an important role in solving some of the school problems that are related to students’ learning. One PTA member talked about how he once complained to the school principal about the special supplementary teaching lessons that some of teachers give outside the school and said: “The special teaching is becoming a more common phenomenon, and I suggested to the principals and the teachers that we need to focus on those weak students and give them additional classes in the school during the breaks instead of having them take lessons outside the school” (MPTA: 5/5/2010). The PTA supports the school activities either financially or in kind. One PTA member talked about the PTA’s financial contributions to the extracurricular activities in the school such as graduate honouring festivals and open days. He added: “We support these festivals, and we pay money to buy gifts. It is necessary to do this in order to encourage students to learn” (FPTA: 11/4/2010). Another PTA member talked about the PTA ‘s role in paying students’ fees, especially for those who are performing well in the school, or those who are living under difficult economical situations. The PTA also contributes some funds for the costs of field trips. A school principal talked about the problems they are facing with water supplies. She said that this summer the water was pumped only once a week to the school due to water shortages. The principal complained to the municipality and they in turn took the step of providing the school with water containers each time they needed water. Local community contributions to the educational sector is decreasing as it is becoming more concentrated on basic life requirements and consumables, small equipment items and repairs. However, the MoEHE is trying to attract funding and contributions from international governments and NGOs. Recently, long term commitments have been made by international governments such as Finland, Belgium and Norway, and other organisations such UNESCO, World Bank and recently the USAID to continue funding the education sector with more focus on professional development programmes and curriculum enrichment. Some of these funds are conditional, however, and will most likely be distributed to those schools agreeing to cooperate with donor terms.
Working under extreme conditions One major challenge teachers face is the Israeli occupation. Three of the studied schools are located near Israeli settlements, and teachers explained that it takes them and the students a longtime to reach their schools. Further, there is anxiety about the possibility of unexpected measures being taken by Israeli soldiers on the roads, such as checkpoints and closure during the Jewish holidays or under the excuse of what they call “security measures”. For example, participating teachers and students living near an Israeli settlement are using alternative roads to avoid delays at the Israeli checkpoints near these settlements. One teacher talked about how it takes him an hour to reach his school instead of 15 minutes, because of a road blocked by Israeli soldiers because it passes by a settlement. This wasted time in transit, according to the teachers, affects their performance and their students’ learning. Teachers were aware of the difficulties the educational system is facing because of the occupation. One teacher said: “Because of the political situation that we are living in under the occupation, the economic situation is deteriorating, which has its impact on the social situation and on education as well. Unfortunately, learning for students is being marginalised because of all these problems” (FT2: 14/4/10). Teachers were also aware of the bad financial situation the MoEHE is passing through because of the occupation, and the conditional funding that depends on political stability in the region. One teacher said: “We are still under occupation, and in spite of all the agreements that we had, we are still occupied, no one can deny that. No one is satisfied, neither the teachers nor the peasants, the leaders and the president himself. We are living a stressful life, and the students’ physiological situation is so bad” (FOT2: 5/4/2010). A meeting with the councillor of one of the targeted schools, which is located near a settlement in the West Bank, talked about the effect of the harsh economic situation on student learning. “A high percentage of fathers work in Israel” the councilor says. He continues: “They wait near the Israeli checkpoint from 3:00 am in the morning to enter the check point and arrive late at night. Most of them work in the construction area and receive a 110 NIS ($30) per day, an amount that is barely sufficient for their basic life expenses. What concerns me is their children at school; they don’t get enough attention and follow-up from their fathers, so I’m currently conducting meetings with mothers to help in supporting them” (C:F: Post interview). The councilor also talked about a phenomenon he tried to remediate over the last three years – that of child labour. He talked about how students, after the school day, used to collect iron bars and construction steel out of settlement construction remnants and sell them in the market to support their families. He adds: “This interferes with their learning of course; it distracts them from learning and doing their homework, and eventually affects their scores. I tried to talk to them about their right to learn but it was useless.” Participating supervisors talked about the challenges faced by the Israeli occupation, especially by Israeli checkpoints and road closures. According to the supervisors, it can take 28
them double the time to reach some schools, especially those close to the Israeli Wall. They try to visit such schools and those that lie on the same route all in one day because it is difficult for them to make a second visit to schools in these locations again during the semester. Supervisors see in the military occupation an obstacle to the fulfillment of their recommendations. One supervisor explains: “I once recommended the transfer of a teacher from one school to another based on his request, believing that he would do better in the new school, but we gave up on this decision after all as he was afraid he would wait for a long time at checkpoints to get clearance to pass” (SH: 12/4/10). Another major challenge for participants is related to the highly bureaucratic system they are working in. The study shows that decision-making is carried out with a top-down approach and mainly comes as instructions for the teachers or principals to follow. There is little space for the teacher to negotiate and affect decision making and, sometimes, decisions are misinterpreted due to the hierarchal communication strategies followed by the MoEHE. The means of communication between teachers and officials are via official letters from the Directorate of Education to the school, or through the supervisor assigned to a given teacher. One example can be seen in a letter sent by a member of the Directorate of Education to school principals and teachers informing them of their decision to conduct the unified and directorate exams just 10 days before the date of the exam, a measure criticised by many teachers and school principals. Other kinds of challenges expressed by the teachers were related to students’ high success ratio and transition from one grade level to the other. Many teachers talked about the modification of students grades in order to minimise the number of failing students. One document gathered from a targeted school showed a 5 point-upgrade to students’ real final grades just to keep the number of the failing students up to the required rate, a measure that makes no sense, according to many teachers, taking into consideration the strict evaluation measures that leads the reform. Principals also talked about this challenge; according to them, the rate of “failing” allowed to each level is very low, and teachers had to pass those who really does not deserve passing their grade level. For them, this is a major problem that participates in the accumulative weaknesses of the students. Teachers are underpaid and are asked to work under very difficult financial conditions. Teachers’ salaries do not exceed $600 dollars/month, which sometimes lead teachers, especially males, to take on additional jobs in the afternoons and evenings. According to the teachers, the low income is one important reason for the low social status of the teaching career. Participating principals also talked about the low salary that they too get. One said: “After all these years of education, they give me 2300 NIS ($650)… and you are stuck in this block, no promotion or anything, while you can find people working at the Ministry and have benefits and ranks,” (PM: 12/4/10). Principals indicated that this salary is not enough for their basic needs, a problem that is shared with the teachers and supervisors.
The model of accountability and standardisation: A dogmatic approach One can easily get the sense from daily practices in the studied schools that the MoEHE is working hard towards implementing its five-year comprehensive plan. The Ministry established committees and departments specifically for following up on the plan’s recommendation. Efforts are now concentrated on changing “teaching” from a career to a “profession”. Just recently, the Commission for Developing the Teaching Profession (CDTP) launched a draft document of teachers’ professional standards. Teachers are being held accountable for their educational practices through reference to these identified professional quality levels of practice which, according to the Ministry, aim at raising teachers’ professional and social status and providing job security (CDTP, 2010). The ministry is proceeding with enforcing a high stake standardisation and examination philosophy that is led by the belief that quality is measurable by achievement and scores. This seemingly new discourse imposed by the educational reform is now being circulated throughout MoEHE offices, especially the supervisory administration office which is the major channel of communication mediating between teachers and MoEHE. Lately, supervisors share with other MoEHE officials the responsibility of formulating the standardised Ministry Exams. When participating supervisors were asked about their expectations of teachers, all agreed that teachers now more than ever need to work hard to raise their students’ achievement; taking into consideration students’ low scores on various subjects. One supervisor explained: “the overall goal for me this year is to raise students’ scores, and I’m sure that this is impossible without raising teachers’ qualifications through continuous follow-up and training” (SH: 12/4/10). Another supervisor within the new comprehensive supervision system said: “I concentrate on students’ achievement more than on teachers; I go to the class whether the teacher is there or not, and evaluate the mathematics of the students, while other supervisors focuses on science, Arabic and English languages” (SMS: 12/6/10). When supervisors were asked about their job satisfaction, most of them said that they are satisfied when they see teachers doing their best to raise students’ scores. As one supervisor explained: “I should focus on the products of learning, and on whether we achieved our goals or not. We all see the situation of our school is bad” (SFO: 29/3/10). For this supervisor, it is not enough to visit and make judgments on the observed teacher; it must also be seen whether the students actually learned or not. He explained: “If I observe a teacher and like his class, and find that he is well prepared with all the required papers, but then I ask his students a question and figure out that they know nothing about the subject, then there is a real problem with that teacher” (SFO: 29/3/10). Reports from the supervisory administration blamed teachers for students’ low scores in the exams. For example, the latest report of a meeting between supervisors and school principals in one of the targeted districts lists expected reasons behind students’ low scores in mathematics as: lack of teachers’ experience in connecting mathematics with real life situations and with students’ previous knowledge; teachers’ inability to simplify the “language” of 30
mathematics in a way to make students understand the main concepts; and lack of knowledge and skills to use the adequate learning resources, educational materials, and aids to facilitate mathematics learning. The reform discourse is also affecting principals’ priorities. A school principal when asked about what distinguishes his school from the neighbouring school said: “My school is now more disciplined than ever. I worked hard to achieve this situation, and I had a plan for school discipline. One important achievement for this plan is that my school scored first place in the mathematics exams last year.” (Post-group meeting, Oct. 2010). Directorate offices of education held continuous meeting with school principals to inform them of their students’ achievements and to discuss how to raise these scores in various subjects. One school principal expressed her concern about the testing system, saying: “I’m really afraid that one day , schools will be rated according to students’ scores, and this will be devastating to all of us” indicating that this would increase tension between the school administration on one hand and the teachers and students on the other, and may affect the willingness of families to register their children in low-scoring schools. Many students expressed their feeling about the tests. They talked about the extension of the school day for an additional class to finish those subjects that are tested in the national exams ie Arabic language, mathematics and science. For example, Samar, a tenth grader complained about the curriculum saying: “Teachers give us additional classes to finish the textbooks; it is too much, and sometimes they give us a seventh class” (StMo: 11/5/10). Students talked about how teachers exchange the sport and art classes for classes in these tested subjects. Tahani, a tenth grader, complained about the extensive exams: “Do you believe that today we have seven classes, five of which are exams” (StMO: 11/5/10). Teachers can feel that a teacher-student relationship that is test-driven is a tense one, always threatening for the students as well as for the soul of teaching and learning. “Students are losing interest in schools” one teacher said, expressing his worries about student’s failure. He continues, “We need to work hard with the principal to restore confidence and interest” (Focus group: 1/10/10). Negotiating roles and meaning making The meaning that teachers see in teaching is more sophisticated than that which the rationalised world of educational reform seeks to impose. While the reform defines teaching within the boundaries of standards, teachers still consider teaching from a more humanistic, religious, passionate, emotional, and most often patriotic stance. Participating teachers considered teaching as a sacred job that holds religious and ethical dimensions. Most of them believe that the role of the teacher is similar to “the messenger that lifts the nation toward advancement and salvage them from ignorance” (AT1, 30/3/10). For example, one teacher said that “it is a message through which I carry out my religious duties” (FT3, 7/3/10). Another teacher said that teaching is “a holy faithful message for the future generation” (HT4: 14/4/10). Most teachers believed that their role is to “give” rather than to “take,” and to share with 31
families the responsibility of “raising a decent generation that holds the cultural values of the community”, and that they are responsible for "raising an educated and literate generation that serves the country” (AT3: 25/3/10). Teachers are used to being satisfied by the reward of students’ respect and gratitude for their efforts and for the knowledge they gained. Many teachers have talked about these “psychic rewards” (see Lortie, 1975 in Hargreaves, 2000) when they felt emotional bonds with students who expressed excitement, interest and enthusiasm regarding the knowledge and skills they acquired. Such non-quantifiable rewards, which are considered success indicators for the teachers no longer will be acknowledged under the new rationalised reformed system. One participating teacher talked about how inspired and attentive his students were when they discussed a lesson based on a poem about Palestine. He explained: “It was one of the lessons that I feel most proud of. I felt that the students were touched; they interacted and participated very well, because this poem talked about our suffering, identity and belonging to this land” (MT4: 6/4/10). The teacher talked about how the discussion was so passionate that he became more engaged than ever with the students and gained more confidence in their abilities to articulate their feelings. When participating students were asked to think of the characteristics of the teacher they liked most they listed the following: Caring, cheerful, understanding, gives time for fun, jokes and a space for humour, respects students, tough and flexible at the same time, does not punish every single misdemeanour, is not always nervous, has a strong and respectful personality, is intellectual, literate, knows his/her subject very well, does not follow the textbook as is, enriches the curriculum with examples and ideas, provides more information from different resources, and avoids tedious ways of teaching. Nuha, a twelfth grader, talked about her Arabic teacher, saying: “She is really a literate person, and has lots of experience in life. She always advises us to be optimistic and to work hard to succeed in the Tawjihi exam” (StA: 2/5/10). Rania, another twelfth grader, talked about the teaching strategies that her history teacher follows: “She does not commit to the textbook; she always gives us something new, we are not here to know only what is in the book. Her teaching style is so organised and interesting, and connects historical events with real stories” (StA: 2/5/10). Rula talked about how her Islamic religion teacher used to teach the subject: “She always connected religion with our real life, and gave examples and advice which we benefitted from in our lives” (StFo: 15/3/10). Teachers know that what students expect from them is totally different to the expectations of the new reform, a list of “qualities” that are far from being quantified. Teachers therefore, need to negotiate roles. They know that in order to be responsible teachers in the eyes of their officials, they need to cover the curriculum and raise their students’ scores especially on those tested subjects like Arabic, English, mathematics and science. However, they also need to provide a context for “meaning making”, a world of emotions, aesthetics and enchantment. It is through this negotiation of roles that teachers make meaning of their career. 32
It is In the six participant schools, the relationship between the teachers and the principals is complementary. Principals define their roles as leaders of a team of teachers working together to achieve certain educational goals and as organisers of the educational process inside the school. They also understand their role as supportive of the teachers in their mission, and as communicators with the local community in order to engage their support for the school also. Participating teachers were asked how they see the relationship with their principals. They all said that the relationship is governed by respect and mutual trust. Most teachers believed that the role of principals is crucial. Being close to the daily situation, they try to support teachers with their professional needs. One teacher said: “I never felt that the principal looked at me in a superior way. She always supported us with her experience in the field” (MST3: 15/4/10). Most teachers expressed that their principals are always supportive of their requests related to job transition and promotions. One participating principal summarised the requirements of her job as follows: “We are required to be fair and wise, and in order to do that, we need to leave our subjectivity at home. My job requires me to take wise decisions in difficult circumstances, and to make wise and fair plans and be able to implement them. To be successful, I need to have the skills to understand and communicate with others, especially with the local community” (PFO: 8/3/10). However, other principals emphasise how education has its humanistic mission. Discussions with principals revealed that they cannot in practice simply “leave subjectivity at home”. One new principal talked about how he worked hard with parents in order to convince them to minimise the student drop-out rate. He also worked with the MoEHE to open his school in the afternoon for an adult illiteracy programme, believing that helping parents to learn will develop their appreciation of learning and in turn encourage them to keep their children, especially girls, in education. Before this principle assumed his role, student absences reached up to 80 per day. During his administration, however, he was able to decrease the number to 8 students per day. Another high school principal talked about her experience with a student who was about to drop out of school and how she solved the problem with the help of her parents. She explained: “We were astonished by her decision; we didn’t know why she wanted to leave the school, and I was not convinced by her excuses. I went to visit her parents; her father at first refused to talk to me, but I insisted on visiting the family again with the , telling them that their child didn’t do anything to make her leave the school, and after many visits, we succeeded in convincing her parents to let her go back to school. Now the girl is in the school and will graduate soon. I’m really happy about this accomplishment.” (PA: 10/3/10)
One school principal talked about an accomplishment she made in terms of the relationship with the parents and local community. She explains: “I managed to hold regular meetings with parents of high-achieving students and with those of low-achieving children in order to have them talk and exchange experiences on how to follow up on their children’s progress at home”. (PM: Follow-up meeting, 9/10/10). She also talked about her efforts to attract funding from the local community in order to support students’ extra-curricular activities and events. Space for manoeuvre and signs of agency In spite of the strict hierarchal educational system and the challenges and demands of the new reform, students, teachers and principals are finding spaces within the system and the curriculum to voice their opinions and positions as well as to develop their hobbies and interests. When participant students in the six studied schools were asked about the subjects they most like to learn in school, half said that they like the English language. One reason is that they feel they are exposed to English language in their lives, and they feel that it is prerequisite for most careers. One student said: “I like English because if you want to use the internet, the language most used is English, so it is important to understand and use it in our daily life” (StF: 25/4/10). Students also liked the art and sport classes where they have can express their creativity and have fun at the same time. Students at one of the studded schools found that their talents and hobbies are fulfilled within the extra-curricular activities (defined by MoEHE officials as out-of-classroom activities) the school organises every year. Students planned the schedule which included theatre sketches, poetry, Dabke dance, sport activities and exhibitions. The researcher for the current report attended the open day and recognised students who were used to sitting at the back of the class without any attention to the teacher. They were at the festival performing spectacles and dancing the Dapke with passion. Families, MoEHE representatives and other representatives from the local community attended the event. Students were seeking recognition from their families and teachers that they can excel at extra-curricular activities they like and admire. One student said: “I can find myself there, dancing and performing the Dabke” (Mo: 22/4/2010). Another student commented: “We wish that we had the chance to repeat these events more often”. Such signs of agency can also be found in teachers’ everyday practices. For example, Manal, a fourth grade science teacher at K school used different methods in teaching about vertebrates and invertebrates (unit 7 P. 61). The teacher started the lesson by reminding the students of the previous topic, which was about classification and its benefits and uses. Then she moved to the spine, and explained its components and importance to humans. She asked one of the students to demonstrate the importance of the spine in supporting the body and movement. Then she brought a live turtle and explained its parts and the location of its spine. She also brought a picture of a cow showing its parts. Manal continued talking about the spinal 34
cord and its importance using metaphors and analogies of how it works. She talked about how people get paralysed if their spinal cord is damaged, giving examples of many Palestinians who were paralysed in road accidents, falls, and sometimes by Israeli bullets during the Intifada. She also talked about the benefits and detriments of some vertebrates. She used the inductive method to help students to generalise and classify living organisms as vertebrates and invertebrates. Manal used pictures of the animals in the textbook to help the students in classification. She concentrated on a mistake in the textbook where the word oyster was written under a shell picture. She took this mistake as an opportunity to talk about how one should question scientific knowledge in general rather than accepting it as is. She also mentioned that scientific knowledge is always changing because it is a human endeavour. Manal brought samples of shelves for students to explore and differentiate between the different kinds of sea shells and oysters. Another example of signs of agency is shown in the case of Rawan, an eleventh grade history teacher at B school. Her lesson was about the 1967 war, which is a unit in “The Contemporary History of Palestine” textbook (P. 49, grade 11, part 2). Rawan reminded the students of the areas that Israel had occupied after 1948. She continued: Excerpt 4: School B, 11th grade History: “The History of Palestine” 1 2 3 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11
T: There are some events before the war (1967) that were the spark of the war; what are they? S: (started to read from the textbook P. 49): In the year 1964, Israel started to drill water from Jordan river. T: And what decision did the Arabs take? S: (Reading): Build dams at its tributaries. T: Why did they build dams? S: To prevent Israel from using the water T: To prevent water from reaching the Israelis. This is the first reason; who could continue with the second reason? Nuha go ahead S: (reading from P. 49) An armed clash occurred between Syria and Israel …(till the end of the paragraph) (Students continued to read from the textbook while the teacher was stating the reasons for the 1967 according to the events described in the textbook: an Israeli military parade, Egypt’s request to withdraw the UN monitoring soldiers from its borders, Egypt’s decision to close the Gulf of Aqaba) T: The war started and continued for six days. The war has terrible consequences. Who can list them for me? S: Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza strip, Golan heights, and Sinai desert. T: And East Jerusalem as well. We said that Jerusalem was not mentioned as an occupied territory in 1967 for political reasons. Don’t forget when the Palestinian Authority asks for Israeli withdrawal from the areas of 1967, Jerusalem is included and it is the capital of Palestine. S: (The teacher continued the discussion about 1967 war and its consequences, and talked about the Palestinian Displacement. She continued): We should not forget that there was a Palestinian resistance, which was fighting. Immediately after the war, a group of Palestinian fighters entered through the Jordan river to re-unite the Palestinians for fighting.
The teacher in this context found a space to talk about historical facts that were omitted from the textbook according to the Oslo agreement. The teacher did well in reminding the students that the Palestinian people were not inert as this part of the text presents; rather, they struggled and fought for their rights. The teacher connected this unit with a previous chapter (chapter 4) about the Palestinian Resistance in 1931. When the teacher was asked 35
Figure 1. Social network scheme for teachers in B School. Note. Numbers represent teachers. Example: The two-head arrow between teacher no. 1 and 5 means that when teacher no. 1 were asked to list five people from whom they learned, and five they felt they had benefitted from, teacher no. 5 was among them. When teacher no. 5 was asked the same questions, she referred to no. 1.
about a lesson she liked most, she mentioned this lesson as an example, and talked about how she changed the linear narrative approach of presenting history; an approach that was adopted by the history textbooks. She elaborated: â€œ I felt that students at one point were depressed because everything in the text indicates that the Arabs provoked Israel and its 1967 actions seemed to be presented as a reaction to this provocation. I needed to put the events in their contexts, connect with the previous lessons and exploreâ€? (At: Follow-up interview).
Another sign of agency is found in teachersâ€™ endeavours to seek knowledge depending on resources other than the textbooks, supervisors, and training programmes offered by the MoEHE. The study revealed that teachers also exchange information and knowledge between their colleagues, and in one case from human resources (such as researchers) outside the school. Hereby, this study looked at how teachers are sharing knowledge and communicating in term of their field of specialisation, and what are the types of learning communicated. For example, Figure 1 shows that school B seemed to have a more sophisticated network; that is, there are more ties between teachers as well as considerable overlaps in the respondents named, showing the interconnections among teachers in terms of sharing their knowledge. The more the overlap, the denser the network.
However, the more OTHERs named, the wider and more sparse the network is, thus the lower in network density. This can be seen in most of the schoolsâ€™ networks schemes as in that for school R below (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Social network scheme for School R. Notes: Numbers= teachers, Princ. = Principal, Univ. Dr. = University Doctor, Sup. = Supervisor, Sec. = Secretary, Stud. = student Adv. = Advisor.
The most common learning relationship was related to technology (learning about the computer, helping each other in assembling equipment etc), then evaluation and assessment (ie how to make valid and reliable tests), followed by administrative issues, such as exchanging ideas and advice on how to discipline students, language proficiency in writing, organising their classes, new methods in teaching, advice from religious resources and experts in relation to the subject. The data provides initial inferences on how learning and knowledge exchange occur in the school, and on the kind of knowledge that is important to their work.
DISCUSSION This research aimed at studying the everyday practices in six Palestinian public schools. The aim is to understand how teachers, students, principals and other stakeholders in education make meaning of their roles within the larger context of the new Palestinian educational reforms. One major finding in this study is that there seems to be a disconnection between participants’ understanding of their roles which is constructed through their everyday interactions and the MoEHE expectations that are driven by the rationalisation procedures enacted by the means-ends reform model. This model, enforced over the past three years by the MoEHE, is characterised by defined expectations, measurable outcomes, strict accountability policies, and intensified testing measures as ways to monitor the effectiveness of the educational system. Results show how such a reform model is multilayered forms of surveillance and disciplining which is saturating teachers’ daily realities. In fact these superimposed layers colonise teachers’ worlds and lives leaving little space for them to bring their own knowledge and practical wisdom, whether as a group or as individuals to bear on the teaching-learning in which they are engaged. The “chemistry” of everyday practice inside schools is shaped by the “physics” from outside, especially by the international funding and support that are in many cases informed by western definitions of “quality”, being universal, expert-driven, neutralised, and depoliticised. It is worth noting that in order for the MoEHE to receive funding from foreign donor countries and international organisations, they are in recent times required to identify measurable goals and objectives, each translated into indicators with some sort of baseline and target numbers. Hence, defining percentages of students who pass the national unified exams seems to be an easy and logical way for the MoEHE and donor countries to define project baselines and targets. Accordingly, most action plans and programmes are built on and evaluated against students’ achievement and “pass” scores. This “neoliberal” model of education which depends on highly rational cycles of defined goals, means, targets, action plans and evaluation is problematic and has been criticised worldwide. There is a need to rethink and reflect on the paradoxical notion of quality that is based on such a rationalised system of reform. Hargreaves and Shirley (2009) explained how in many countries including the US and the UK during the mid-1908s there was government centralisation and standardisation of educational goals resulting in increased competition among schools, the setting of more prescriptive curriculum contents, and intensified coaching of teachers in a way that seemed more inspectional; that is, it enforced curriculum “fidelity”, directing teacher training programmes toward technical pedagogies centred on the curriculum goals, thus moving away from the “academic” training programmes, and finally, in some countries, there were sanctions such as involuntary teacher transfers, principal removals, and fund shifting if schools failed to maintain expected standards of achievement. The neoliberal agenda on education is being enforced within the Palestinian system. This research indicates that we are heading toward a “second way of change” according to Hargreaves and Shirley, 38
reforms that to a great extend failed in their own countries to realise a true “change” in education. Another criticism of the rationalised reforms such as that adopted by the MoEHE is the emphases on the “technical” dimension of education (Eisner, 2005), which tends to treat students as “products”, marked with scores, rather than unique and dynamic, thus neglecting the “organic” or “humanistic” dimension. Many scholars (see for example Apple, 1982; Eisner, 2002) have questioned the “technical approach” in reform in which education is rationalised linearly starting from defining goals and followed by setting assessment systems that measure these goals. A study from the World Bank (Hanushek & Wößmann, 2008) also recommended a review of the policies that emphasise the “cognitive” dimensions in defining quality in relation to economic growth while ignoring the aesthetic , social and ethical dimensions. One important criticism that one should not ignore in the Palestinian case is the issue of inequalities in term of students’ experiences before entering schools, as well as the availability of resources in each school. Looking at the facilities that the schools have on Table 1, one can notice that some targeted schools have equipped science and computer labs, and large libraries with sufficient resources, while others still lack these facilities and resources and are working hard with the local community and Ministry offices to secure these resources. The question that continues to be posed is whether it is fair to hold teachers and students accountable for achieving common outcomes when there are such inequal conditions in schools? Another major finding of this study is related to teachers’ pedagogies. Results of the RTOP questionnaire show that teachers seem to master their subject matter, however, they lacked the pedagogies necessary to engage students in discussion, critical thinking and reflection. Results indicate that education practices are actually transformed into a process of “teaching the curriculum” rather than helping students to learn. Students and teachers are working for the purposes of compliance, a hidden curriculum that is currently working within the system. Teachers and students are learning that success is to pass exams. Classroom observation showed that “teacher talk” is still dominant and driven by the textbooks and exams. Teacher-centred instruction with much less student talk, stands out as a very important indicative mark of the Palestinian classroom (Wahbeh, 2006). Results of this study are in line with the World Bank report (2006). This report shed the light on the challenges related to curriculum overload, quality, and relevance. The report explained how these challenges effected the everyday practices inside the Palestinian schools: “Opportunity to learn is undermined when there is too little time devoted to many of the key subjects; the fact that teachers and students voluntarily extend their classroom time in some schools in order to be able to cover the curriculum really speaks for itself. A traditional approach emphasizing facts, descriptive knowledge and abstract theory does not leave curriculum space—or classroom time— for developing the cognitive and citizenship skills that are required from graduates in the 21st century. Moreover, curriculum overload consumes extra 39
energy from principals, supervisors and other support personnel, who tend to concentrate in controlling the full coverage of the curriculum.” (The World Bank, 2006, P. 26)
The recent research conducted by Palestine Economic Policy Research (MAS, 2010) aimed at studying the role of schools in building “social capital” showed that there are many obstacles toward such an endeavour. One is the demoralised and “frustrated” teachers who “lack incentives”, the views of children about the school as being “a prison”, the overall “tense” relationship between the teachers and the MoEHE officials represented by the supervisory system and, most importantly, the top-down approach of communication enforced by a centralised educational system. Results of MAS study also show that schools are “isolated from the local community” due to the deficient Parent-Teacher associations and the absence of a vision to connect the school with the local community. However, the results of this study show that in spite of the extreme conditions that participating teachers, students, and principals are working under, associated with the Israeli occupation measures, the accountability polices of the MoEHE and its centralised system, and the controversial curriculum implementation and evaluation policies, there are also physics in the inside that operate, within schools, and within classrooms. There are contexts where participants showed signs of agency, that is, where they worked toward being active agents of change rather than passive-frustrated receivers of policies. Some teachers in their classroom found spaces to manoeuvre the curriculum, and criticise the knowledge presented. Some principals worked hard to connect to the local community for the benefit of students’ safety and learning. Teachers and principals in some targeted schools worked together with students in arranging different literacy and extracurricular activities to present their knowledge and skills in a range of areas. Hereby, another important question should be raised: In what ways can these initiatives be encouraged and internalised within the assessment system as signs of educational quality?
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS This research aimed at studying the everyday practices in six Palestinian schools distributed within two geographic areas, Hebron and Ramallah districts. Interviews, observations, RTOP questionnaire and a social network tool were used and triangulated together and with collected artifacts to answer the questions of the study. Results indicate that the educational reform in Palestine that started with the declaration of the MoEHE’s five yearstrategic plan imposed different expectations and understandings of roles among teachers, students, and principals from one side and the Ministry offices with its supervisory system and operational offices on the other side. The process of professionalisation, standardisation and testing that are the major characteristic of the new reform seem to impose a more centralised system which is against the essence of the reform goal outlined in the strategic plan. Furthermore, this approach to reform is disenfranchising teachers from good quality and 40
aesthetic teaching and learning opportunities and reducing everyday practices of teachers and students to a set of technical and rationalised norms. There is a need to reconceptualize “Quality Education” on the level of educational policy, pedagogy, and research. A list of recommendations related to “Quality Education” are presented in the following paragraphs. These recommendations can work only if the MoEHE works together with teachers’ unions and local Palestinian institutions to improve the economic status of the teacher, that is, by setting a decent salary along with a salary scale with job security, promotions and award systems that reflects teachers’ performance and accomplishments. First: reconceptualisation of educational assessment and evaluation As mentioned earlier, the MoEHE defined “quality” in terms of students’ achievement, which focused the reform on standardisation and testing and led the everyday practices inside the classroom to be test-driven and textbook-oriented. Official at the MoEHE need to rethink their definition of quality to include students’ performance and meaning making which according to Dahlberg and Moss (2008) makes practice contextualised, visible and subject to reflection, dialogue and argumentation. Reconceptualisation of “quality” to includes performance and meaning making requires a new system of evaluation that includes documentation, reflection papers, diaries, photography, and video-based assessment in which all work in a context of reflection on practices and toward students’ performance assessment. Thus, a comprehensive review of the evaluation system is required as soon as possible, to study the effect of the testing procedures on defining roles, prioritising disciplines, and achieving equal opportunities in quality learning. Second: A reconceptualised vision of curriculum Many studies of the Palestinian curriculum have shown its deficiency in directing students toward meaningful learning (e.g. Brown, 2001; Moughrabi, 2002; Wahbeh, 2003, 2009). Teachers are forced to use the textbook as a ‘cook-book’ to be followed word by word. The reconceptualisation of the curriculum requires inclusion of students’ experiences at school, home and the community. A new vision of curriculum based on the notion that the textbook is one of the many resources that teachers and student should use is needed more than ever. A contemporary vision of curriculum – a “holistic model” - suggests a need to understand the curriculum as a process of understanding the self in relation to the world, rather than simply a set of textbooks that students must memorise (Eisner, 2002; Kincheloe, Slattery & Steinberg, 2000). Thus, classroom activities, extracurricular activities and events such as open days and science exhibitions, as well as parents’ experiences, need to be valued as they reflect the social and cultural contexts of learning.
Third: Creating spaces for practicing “agency” Within the reforms, not much space is left for teachers to share, communicate and build on their own epistemic experience and practical wisdom, among their peers, as colleagues. Teachers are left un-supported, pushed into isolation because they feel threatened by the exams and the disciplining approach of the educational policies. It is crucial for Palestinian education to start addressing this obsession with discpline, particularly that this is a society that has been so full of vitality in opposing outside occupation, including teachers. This study showed that in spite of the challenges teachers and students are facing, they find spaces to voice their talents and creativity, as well as showing indicators of active agents in the school. The social network tool also showed that under the closed system of information exchange within the boundaries of the MoEHE system, teachers ought to form social networks based on exchanging knowledge and experience with each other and with the local community. Therefore, there is a need to empower such initiatives through creating more networking opportunities between schools and the local community, a model that emphasises on creating spaces for teachers to pursue their own professional development in peer based communities of practice. One inspiring outside-school model of networking was the TeacherCommunity Centre in Ni’Lien village near Ramallah, which was initiated by the Qattan Centre of Educational Research and Development –A.M. Qattan Foundation and is currently run by teachers who organise and lead professional development, literacy and cultural activities. Teachers in these centres meet regularly, exchange lesson plans and experiences, reflect on their daily practices inside their schools, and publish their experiments in various means. This is an empowerment model for teachers that works outside the formal educational system, however, enriching and informing practices inside the system. There are similar success stories lead by another institutions such as Al-Mawred and AL-Naizak and others. Fourth: Toward a student-centred, contextualised, reflexive and interdisciplinary pedagogies The study has also showed that teachers have followed a teacher-centred instructional approach that was most often textbook and test driven. The teacher training programmes led by the supervisory system seem to be insufficient to influence teachers’ conceptions and practices towards more student-centred pedagogies. It is clear from the RTOP results that while teachers are perceived as mastering their subject matter, and behaving respectfully, their dominance in the classroom, in relation to much less student talk stands out as a very indicative mark of the Palestinian classroom. TEACHER TALK, more than anything else becomes the foundation through which teachers feel their authority and role are preserved. The question then becomes: how can one best help Palestinian teachers view their authority in other way, which will lead them to talk much less, and rather be more participative in their pedagogic approach. 42
Our work with teachers shows that one important issue in helping teachers view their authority differently is highlighting best practices and making them known to others through various means. One way is to engage teachers in professional development programmes, forums and meetings that focus on reflective practice (Schon, 1983; Shulman, 1996). Participating teachers indicated that the most beneficial training programmes were those that involved exemplary teaching, where teachers presented their work in front of their colleagues and use them as learning cases. Hence, one strategy for reflection on action is using videotape based approach in which teachers can watch themselves teaching and thus critically reflect on their practices. Another important way is to encourage teachers to present their work in conferences, study days and workshops. Teachers in this study talked positively about those opportunities offered by different NGOs where they presented their work in conferences and workshops and received feedback from colleagues. A new vision for teacher empowerment that is based on collegial knowledge exchange and redefining roles is indeed one important approach for improving the quality of education. More specifically, supervisors need to reconceptualise their roles substantially, presenting themselves less as sources of knowledge and judgment and more as facilitators of learning and knowledge exchange, however, this requires support from the MoEHE at the policy level and from the local community and organisations that have expertise and successful experience in that matter. In addition, teachers need support to contextualise their instructions within a social– cultural framework and within real life situations. Students in this study talked about how they benefited from those lessons that related and connected to their everyday life. Contextualisations also require teachers to adopt interdisciplinary approaches in teaching. One approach that was found to be effective in students’ meaning making of the topics they learned is the project-based approach. Students and teachers in this approach work together in projects that integrate many topics, concepts, and skills, and require sharing of knowledge and experiences from different resources to achieve a creative product or endeavour. Many schools all over the world have adopted this approach as part of their teaching schedule, where two or three periods are specified for students to work and integrate knowledge from various disciplines; projects that have social, environmental, political and ethical dimensions. This study showed that there is a need for educational policies that articulate a pedagogy which is rooted in a democratic and empowering understanding of relational agency, that is, developing reflexive, and agentic individuals who tackle as their point of departure the challenges involved in creating meaningful relational interactions with the “other” in the totality of her/his differences.
Fifth: Reuniting with the local community and with the Palestinian educational institutions One of the major goals of the five-year strategic plan is to intensify the collaboration and partnership with local and international institutions that work in the field of education. However, the approach that the MoEHE is adopting is heading more towards attracting individual local contractors from different local institutions on the level of implementation rather than true partnership with these institution on the level of policy and decision making. There is a need of an educational policies that are conducive of a democratic engagement of teachers and schools with the larger community. This study show that the MoEHE need to open a true dialogue with the local community through its institutions, first to discuss issues and raise questions on the policy level such as: whose knowledge is being addressed through the concept of “quality” and from what perspective? Can “quality” be neutral and self-evident? How can we work together to address “quality” from multiple perspectives taking into consideration the socio-cultural and geo-political context? What are the international model reforms that really worked, and which of them failed and why? How do the dynamics of power relations with the international donors work? What are the benefits and consequences of funddriven programmes on our educational system? How can we work together to minimise negative consequences, knowing that we are in need of such funding? Second, a real partnership needs to be established with the local community and its institutions on implementing national policies in education. Lot of institutions have expertise in different areas, especially in the area of teacher education and professional development. This research shows that teachers are benefiting from training programmes offered by the local community institutions and organisations. It is important for the MoEHE to open space for such initiatives and programmes that offer multiple perspectives on development and empowerment. However, these programmes need to focus on education that integrates global humanistic, ethical, environmental and aesthetic issues such as learning for freedom and liberation, equity, diversity, choice and decision-making, and the right to meaningful learning taking into consideration the socio-cultural context.
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Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MoEHE, 2007a). A diagnostic report of the education in Palestine.[Arabic]. Ramallah, Palestine. Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MoEHE, 2007b). Educational Development Strategic Plan [EDSP]. The five-year development plan 2008 â€“ 2012. Towards quality education for development. Palestine. Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MoEHE). The Directorate General For Supervision and Educational Qualification (DGSEQ) (2009/2010) [Arabic]. A referential manual for educational supervision. Ramallah, Palestine. Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MoEHE). The Directorate General For Supervision and Educational Qualification (DGSEQ) (2010/2011) [Arabic]. A referential manual for the comprehensive follow-up. Ramallah, Palestine.
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Piburn, M., Sawada, D., Falconer, K., Turley, J. Benford, R., Bloom, I. (2000). Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP). ACEPT IN-003. http://physicsed.buffalostate.edu/AZTEC/RTOP/RTOP_full/ Rihan, R. (2001) â€˜The Palestinain Educational Development Plan: Promise for the Future.â€™ Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture, 3(2), 19-33 Schon, D. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books. Shulman, L. S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundation of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57, 1 -22. Shulman, L. S. (1996). Just in case : Reflections on learning from experience. The case for education: Contemporary approaches for using case methods. Ed. J.A. Colbert, P. Desberg & K. Trimble. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. The World Bank. (2006). West Bank and Gaza Educational Sector Analysis: Impressive achievements under harsh conditions and the way forward to consolidate a quality educational system. Retrieved from http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/ on December 22, 2010. Wahbeh, N. (2003). Teaching and learning science in Palestine: Dealing with the new Palestinian science curriculum. Mediterranean Journal of Educational Studies, 8(1), 135-159. Wahbeh, N. & Kishek, W. (2006). Analysis of the pedagogic discourse: Patterns of interaction in a Palestinian School. A.M. Qattan Foundation. Ramallah, Palestine.
Appendix 1 Sample of questions taken from Unified Exams
1- Unified English Exam for 6th Grade (2009 – 2010) p. 1
2- Unified Arabic Exam for 7th Grade (2009 – 2010) p. 1
3- Unified Arabic Exam for 5th Grade (2009 – 2010) p. 1
4- Unified Science Exam for 4th Grade (2009 -2010) p. 3
Appendix 2 Translation of an Essay About the Teacher in the Arabic Language Exam “There is a young man, slightly more than twenty years of age, who went to the field work (school) with determination and enthusiasm, facing reality with a smile and hope and looking to the future with a heart full of noble emotions and sensations. The children came to the village from different areas; they didn’t know anything and didn’t do anything. He had to raise these children up, open their minds, open their eyes to the beauty of creation, each day to take parts of his mind to complete theirs, to take from his soul to elevate their souls. He made his life in the village a Jihad: He fought the village’s bad habits and ridiculous beliefs, as well as their laziness. You would see him after finishing his job sitting beside his lamp correcting copy books and sheets, and when he would finish from this exhausting job, you would see him planning his next lessons, summarising from the books what he sees appropriate to deliver to the child possible, and he feels victorious when he watches his planting growing like a beautiful flower, and how through his loyalty he prepares the future generation. He (the teacher) was the first to open his (child) eyes to light, and take him away from ignorance and aberration. He is like a bridge on which generations over generations pass from one side of ignorance to the other side of light, and they continue their way.”
Appendix 3 Pages from the Directorate Notes in Relation to the Exams
Notes about the 5th Grade English Test Results
Notes about the 4th Grade Arabic Test Results
Notes about the 4th Grade Mathematics Test Results
Notes sent to teacher related to 8th Grade English Language before the Exam
Appendix 4 Participants’ Views about the Role of the Supervisors and Training Programs Supervisors perception of their role
1- Evaluate teachers’ practices 2- Offer training for teachers 3- An official channel of communication and follow-up between the MoEHE and teachers 4- Support teachers in their professional development 5- Exchange ideas
Teachers’ views about supervisors’ role (Total no. of teachers interviewed 24)
Teachers’ views about the training program offered by supervisors
70% of teachers understand the supervisors’ role:
30 % of teachers (most of them are new teachers) benefited a lot from those training programmes that were related to:
1- As inspection role, and searching for teachers’ mistakes 30% of the participant teachers understand supervisors’ role as: 1- A source of knowledge, content and pedagogy 2- Open spaces for exchanging experiences with other teachers
1- Assessment and evaluation, 2- Those programs that focus on presenting case studies, models in teaching, and exemplary classroom teaching. 70% of the teachers felt that the training programmes offered by the MoEHE : 1- were not useful 2- do not offer any new knowledge, 3- are traditional in terms of ideas and practices 4- are not relevant to what they teach 5- are disconnected from reality. 6- Complained from services, such as the lack of transportation refund and low quality food service. Most teachers complained about the authoritarian way instructors; who are mostly supervisors, treat teachers attending the training programme.
Appendix 5 Participants’ Views about the Exams and the National Curriculum Participants
Views about the exams
Views about the Curriculum
Half of the participant teachers felt positively about the exams offered by the MoEHE saying that these exams: 1- are good for identifying students’ ability 2- encourage the students to study and to know where he/she stands in relation to the subject. 3- encourage teachers to do their utmost in order to fulfill the curriculum requirements. The other half of the participant teachers said that the exams are:
Most of the participant teachers said that: 1- The textbooks they teach are densed (lots of units and subjects 2- Subjects are not relevant to students’ life 3- Higher than students’ cognitive level 4- There is no integration between the textbook subjects. 5- Textbooks in the lower elementary level (grades 1- 4) do not allow the students to think and to be creative.
higher than the cognitive level of the students, contains lots of mistakes, emphasise rote learning, enforce teachers to end the “dense” curriculum at the expense of students’ understanding and practising of their experiences. 5- cause anxiety to students and parents. Supervisors
Participant supervisors believed that the exams are important for having reliable results about students’ achievement.
Most of the supervisors expressed their content about the textbooks, however, they said that they are condensed, higher than the level of the grade they target, and need modification and enrichment.
Most principals understand the exams as: 1- a supportive measure for raising studentsâ€™ achievement. 2- A motivation for teachers to cover the entire curriculum.
Many participating principals see the Palestinian curriculum as a national achievement, however, it needs enrichment.
However, they all agreed that there are problems in administering the exams such as: 1- the sudden announcements of the exams 2- exchanging studentsâ€™ answers among neighbouring schools to be corrected by other teachers which is according to them threaten the validity.
Students especially the 4th grades face problems in coping with the exams. Most of students said they are required to take lots of exams which cause additional burden.
1- Textbooks are difficult 2- Crowded with subjects, 3- Lead to memorisation to succeed in the exams.
Published on Jun 27, 2013
Published on Jun 27, 2013
This ethnographic research was held in six Palestinian public schools. Three schools were selected in each of the Ramallah and Hebron govern...