January 2012, Beirut - “If you ask any Palestinian family what is their aim in life, nine times out of ten it would be to educate their children,” explained Dr. Sam Shahin, a Palestine refugee now living in Australia. “When you are powerless, when you have nothing else, there is a strong belief that – through education – you give people the best chance of being successful."
After spending his childhood attending UNRWA schools in Lebanon, Dr. Shahin and his family later emigrated to Australia, where he now helps to build partnerships between Australians and Palestinians.
One such project began last year as a collaboration between Australian Volunteers International, Australian-Palestinian Partnerships (APP), and UNRWA. Two UNRWA education specialists from Lebanon were placed in the Australian education system to visit schools, shadow teachers, and observe Australian methods of instruction and assessment.
Two countries; common strategies
“We learned so much from seeing a new education system and sharing our experiences,” said Malak Soufian, one of the two participants in the exchange. Ms. Soufian and her colleague Iman Masrieh have both supervised education programmes for Palestine refugees in Lebanon for years, but shared a desire to improve education standards in UNRWA schools – especially the ability of refugee students to learn English.
“As UNRWA students generally do not use English outside of the classroom, many of them have difficulty in learning the material as well as expressing themselves,” Ms. Masrieh said.
In addition to mainstream schools, the teachers visited an educational institute for newcomer and refugee students who are learning English as a second language.
“Our aim is that every individual project leads to at least one ongoing conversation between Palestinian professionals and their Australian counterparts,” explained Professor Jon Jureidini of APP. In addition to arranging the visit, the organisation has donated computers, software and training for an English-language textbook project in UNRWA schools. “APP wants to offer whatever support we are able to provide, including practical – and yet critical – resources.”
The two teachers returned to Lebanon with a wealth of new educational tools they plan to use with Palestine refugee students in UNRWA schools.
“In order to learn, you have to get in contact with others, and make use of their experience and depth of knowledge,” said Ms. Masrieh.
“We have the resources now,” added Ms. Soufian, “and we can make use of them to achieve UNRWA’s goal of high quality services in education.”