The Palestinian Coalition for a Safe Learning and Teaching Environment is the main steering committee for the Global Campaign for Education in Palestine. The Coalition began this year's activities with a training workshop for 20 media representatives from governorates across the West Bank. Building on this year's theme of Rights from the Start, participants were informed about the Global Campaign for Education and its relevance to early childhood education in Palestine. Coalition members from the Teacher Creativity Center, the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, Early Childhood Resource Center, Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees and Palestinian Hydrology Group provided varying perspectives on issues affecting Palestinian children.
The workshop commenced with a presentation by Mrs. Intisar Hamdan from the Teacher Creativity Center. Hamdan provided a history of the Coalition and its mission to strengthen the educational sector. Hamdan discussed the relevance of the Global Campaign for Education within the Palestinian context and how the Rights from the Start motto holds immense importance for Palestinian society. Early childhood education lays the foundation for children and guarantees the formation of positive experiences.
Early childhood care and education should, according to the Moscow Declaration, include health, nutrition, security, social development, emotional development, language and education; these all contribute to the holistic development of children. Pre-school and kindergarten programs can help ease the transition to primary schools, improve academic achievement and provide early interventions for marginalized students. Mrs. Afaf Mazara from the Palestinian Medical Relief Society discussed the medical conditions within the early childhood context and explained the challenges within the early childhood sector. Improving children's access to health begins in their early years through periodical health check-ups to kindergartens. A holistic approach to children's development will enable them to become healthy members of society that are able to contribute to all educational, developmental, social, political and economic areas in Palestine.
Mrs. Nihaya Hamed from the Early Childhood Resource Center presented the challenges of early childhood in Palestine from perspective of the teachers and children. She maintained that early childhood education in Palestine is under the responsibility of civil society organizations, the private sector and popular unions of political parties while the Palestinian government isn’t providing substantial attention to this sector. The Ministry of Education monitors kindergartens, provides permissions for their establishment, ensures financial facilitation and determines curricular alignment. This entails that admissions to a kindergarten program depends on a family’s economical status while chances to participate in early childhood education decrease for children from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The difficulties and challenges of the early childhood sector in Palestine lack a clear strategic plan and is not a priority to the Palestinian Authority. The sector also has a human resources shortage, challenging work conditions and low salaries which results in a high child to caregiver ratio. Furthermore, there is a shortage of kindergarten facilities and an inadequate budget from the Palestinian government.
The workshop concluded with a presentation by Mrs. Amal Qweider from the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees and Mrs. Shireen Zeidan from the Palestinian Hydrology Group. Mrs. Qweider addressed how a lack of safe and appropriate playing space affects kindergarten education as well as how the lack of natural scenery that impacts children’s psychological health. Qweider also addressed how existing early childhood programs lack environmental awareness that connect geography and history to Palestine's cultural heritage.
This workshop is one of many activities implemented by the Palestinian Coalition for a Safe Learning and Teaching Environment as part of the Global Campaign for Education. 2012 marks the Coalition's fifth year of participation in this worldwide campaign that aims to raise awareness and put pressure on governments and policy makers to fulfill their obligations towards the Education for All.