April 15, 2012
Today, the Palestinian Coalition for a Safe Learning and Teaching Environment (PCSLTE) held a press conference about the Global Campaign for Education. Held at the Governmental Media Center, representatives from the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MOEHE), the United Nations Work and Relief Agency (UNRWA), General Federation of Independent Trade Unions (GFITU) and organizations from the Coalition including the General Union of Disabled Palestinians (GUDP) and Teacher Creativity Center (TCC) were present at the conference. The conference introduced this year's theme on Early Childhood Care and Education and the campaign's activities for the Global Action Week from April 21st to April 29th 2012. The “Rights from the Start” slogan has the main aim to pressure decision-makers and stakeholders to provide more attention to the early childhood sector.
Mr. Ali Abu Zaid, Director of General Education at the MOEHE, confirmed that the Ministry pays substantial attention to early childhood care and education. According to Abu Zaid, “I say with faith that if early childhood care and education is one of the most neglected goals of the education for all goals on the international level, it is nonetheless one of the most prevalent goals in Palestine’s report about education for all, not only on the speaking level but also on the implementation level.” Abu Zaid further added that “the Ministry is revising and determining amendments in the elementary school curriculum both quality and quantity wise. Also, the Ministry is seeking to support special needs students, such that a national program is being implemented in all schools, under the name Inclusive Education. Also, the Ministry is paying attention to health issues among students and is providing regular checkups for hearing, sight and blood, in addition to monitoring nutrition in school cafeterias and the resource of water.”
Mr. Wahid Jubran, on behalf of UNRWA, said “it is the pleasure of UNRWA's Education Program in the West Bank to participate in the 2012's Global Action Week focusing on early childhood care and education, [because it is] in accordance with the internationally acknowledged Education for All goals, namely goal number 1 stating expanding and improving holistic early childhood care and education, especially to deprived and affected children”. Mr. Jubran added “guaranteeing that children receive proper education in their early childhood period requires a number of systematic interventions, most notably: providing healthy nutrition, quality health care, a safe and secure environment guaranteeing intellectual and physical motivation, ensuring the readiness of schools to receive children and supporting parents.”
Mr. Mahmoud Ziadeh, Secretary General of the GFITU, discussed the hardships of Early Childcare workers. These workers face low wages and inadequate work contracts that undermine workers' rights as determined in Palestinian Labor Laws. Mr. Ziadeh added that the majority of workers in kindergartens are unqualified to teach in this sector because they do not hold university degrees. Teaching in the early childhood sector does not appeal to qualified candidates because of the abominable work conditions.
Mr. Nizar Basalat, consultant at the GUDP, discussed the importance of education to people with disabilities. According to Mr. Basalat, “education plays an active role in the rehabilitation of people starting from acquiring knowledge and awareness of their rights to vocational rehabilitation and employment. People with disabilities represent one of the most marginalized groups in society with limited access to rights guaranteed by international conventions, treaties and agreements. Illiteracy rates surpassed 48% for disabled students who represent 7% of all citizens according to a report by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.” Mr. Basalat affirmed that “early childhood is one of the most important periods for education which prompted the GUDP to focus on the enrollment of children with disabilities in certified teaching centers that can provide the adequate support for these children. The union also considers early childhood the most important for forming attitudes and acceptance towards others, increasing awareness about disability issues for this age group can help counter negative attitudes and preconceived notions about students with disabilities. Mr. Basalat ended by stating that the GUDP's participation in the Global Campaign for Education came in accordance with the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the standard rules adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and the Disability Rights Law number 4/99.
Mr. Khaled Mansour, representative for the PCSLTE, said “The Rights from the Start, motivated Palestinian organizations and coalition organizations in preparation for the activities of the Global Campaign for Education and united many on the issue of enhancing quality education for children in early childhood.” Mr. Mansour added that the impact of the Global Campaign for Education helped replace the culture of silence with the culture of critical thinking and accountability. Mr. Mansour stated that “early childhood education is still considered informal education in the eyes of the Palestinian government, who do not pay attention to this sector, such that the responsibilities of the Ministry of Education are limited to providing permission for the establishment of kindergartens, ensuring financial facilitation and appropriate programs that correspond with the criteria adopted by the Ministry for kindergartens. Education in kindergartens is still provided by the private sector, non-profit organizations and charities. As a result, enrollment in kindergarten depends on a family’s economic situation; children from families with limited social and economic resources do not have the same opportunity to attend kindergarten.”
Mr. Mansour also discussed the issues of education in Jerusalem and Area C. According to Mr. Mansour “the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is still the main obstacle preventing advancement and development in all sectors, including early childhood education. The educational sector, in general, suffers from inappropriate infrastructure and overcrowded classrooms that lack proper ventilation. Formal statistics of the Municipality of Jerusalem indicate that the number of children who do not enroll in schools exceeded 5300, comprising 6% of the total number of children in the city; the statistics also indicated that the drop-out rates reached 50% and that there is a shortage of 100 classrooms. Mansour stated that the occupation imposes a systematic policy to create numerous obstacles towards accessing education such as the difficulty of obtaining permits, building restrictions on new schools or renovations of preexisting schools and limiting the provision of basic educational services to approximately 150,000 Palestinians.
To end the conference, Mrs. Intisar Hamdan, from the TCC, announced the activities for the Global Action Week and presented the demands of the coalition to Palestinian decision-makers. Early childhood care and education needs more attention and greater investment as well as enhanced protection of children’s rights to ensure maximum achievement of children’s capacities. Mrs. Hamdan ended her presentation with a list of demands for the Palestinian National Authority that include: implementing free and compulsory early childhood education, increasing the allocated budget to the early childhood sector, taking responsibility for the early childhood sector, developing a national strategic plan for the early childhood sector, improving working conditions for early childhood workers, increasing the number of kindergartens, enforcing academic standards for workers in kindergartens and ensuring the integration of children with disabilities in the educational system.