The Power of Teachers
One of the most important aspects of a functioning democracy is an active citizenry that keeps its government connected and accountable to the needs of the people. This requires that citizens possess the research and communication skills required to monitor and interact with their government, and it requires the belief in their ability to have influence and efficacy in determining the policies of their government. In Palestine, one teacher working to ensure that his citizens possess these skills and beliefs is Maher Malleh, an 11th grade economics teacher teaching in Qabatiya.
Maher did not grow up wanting to be a teacher. In fact he only became a teacher because he needed income and he struggled to find employment in Palestine’s difficult economic conditions. However, once he became a teacher in his hometown of Qabatiya, Maher found his calling as he witnessed the power and potential for students to grow and succeed when given the right support and encouragement.
One program that Maher has worked with over the last three years to support his students’ ability to develop as active citizens in their community was the Social Audit Project. This project was coordinated by the Teacher Creativity Center (TCC) a Palestinian NGO founded by primary and secondary teachers with the goal of promoting the values of human rights, democracy, and citizenship amongst teachers and students. The Social Audit project aims to promote a sense of participation and responsibility among Palestinian youth in order to empower them to become active members of their communities.
The Social Audit project accomplishes these goals through participatory project-based learning where students conduct social audits of public services in their local community in order to promote the values of transparency, accountability, and integrity in both the students and the local governance. The project was implemented with 118 different teachers around the West Bank and Gaza Strip and directly touched the lives of 3540 different Palestinian students in 2014-2015.
One of these teachers was Maher Malleh. Maher taught 11th grade Economics and Business in Qabatiya, but he noticed that the current curriculum did not afford the students the ability to learn hands-on skills that could be applied to their future professional lives or their lives as citizens of Palestine. He believed that the students needed more personal experience in the classrooms so that that they could connect the theory they learned in class to real-world situations. He noticed that this lack of connection to the real-world created a sense of disillusionment amongst the students as they took little pride in their school or in their education.
Thus, when provided with the opportunity to partner with the Teacher Creativity Center in conducting the Social Audit project, Maher gladly took up the call. Maher with his students at Izzat Abu Rubb Boys School decided to conduct a social audit on the paving and construction of sidewalks on the main street in Qabatiya. The students began this project by conducting interviews with project stakeholders, reviewing project descriptions, and collecting information from the municipal offices about the financing, administration, and management of the project. The students conducted interviews with local officials, contractors, and residents, in addition to researching relevant policies and regulations. As interpreting this information and utilizing it in interviews required an in-depth understanding of economics and business terminology, Maher was able to use this project to teach these terms more intrinsically, so that students would gain a holistic and lasting understanding of the concepts.
Maher noticed that his students began to gain the confidence in their ability to function as active citizens and shape policies in their community. They gained the courage to speak to contractors and government officials and use detailed research to convince these stake-holders of their opinions. Maher’s students identified several discrepancies with the construction of the street in Qabatiya as storm drains were not installed, pedestrian lights and crossings were in the wrong place, and several safety risks to the community existed.
Maher’s students brought these issues to the local community by conducting interviews with national radio hosts and publicizing their reports on social media. The students arranged for a public-hearing with the mayor and representatives of the local community in order to address these issues. As a result of the evidence and testimonies that the students presented at the public hearing the municipality fixed the deficiencies of the street project.
However, beyond the immediate improvement to the street, Maher noticed that his students became leaders in their community outside of the parameters of the Social Audit project. They became active members of their civil society, getting involved with volunteer organizations and continuing to participate in school and community policy meetings. Moreover, these students brought their parents, their classmates, and their neighbors to these community meetings, and thus increased their involvement in civic society as well.
This is why Maher, even after the funding of the project stopped, continued to implement similar projects in his economics class. By conducting these projects he and his students became active and respected leaders in civil society. Maher is now communicating with teachers around the West Bank, working with them to implement similar projects and getting feedback on successes and challenges. Moreover, the group of students that he originally conducted the project with have become like a family, getting together frequently outside of class to work on projects throughout their community, as they have restored the belief of the community in the power of education.
Maher has an incredible passion for teaching. He cares deeply about his students and wants to see them succeed both professionally and as active citizens in Palestine after they leave his class. He is convinced about the power of education in Palestine as he is now teaching other teachers through social media and more formal trainings to use the same techniques he learned in Social Audit. He has improved the lives of his students but also the lives of his community members and Palestinians across his country.
This is the power of providing teachers like Maher with training in citizenship education. The Teacher Creativity Center recognizes that Maher is not unique in his desire, passion, and commitment to Palestinian education, and that there are many other teachers who could replicate his success if given the proper training and support. Thus, the Teacher Creativity Center hopes to continue to fund trainings for more teachers and more schools, so that all students across Palestine will be active and engaged citizens working to make Palestine and the world a more just place.