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Home > English > Alternatives International Journal > 2010 > October 2010 > The World Education Forum

The World Education Forum

An Interview with Refaat Sabbah, Director of the Teacher Creativity Centre

Friday 1 October 2010, by Refaat SABBAH

Whenever Palestinians have the chance to meet people from outside, and they realize there are still people in the world who fight for justice and fight for the rights of the other, it gives them hope— and when people have hope they work for peace.

Tell us about the status of the education system and education under occupation.

Beginning with education, it’s considered one of the most important resources in Palestine. Palestinians, they don’t have a lot of resources. That is why the human is the most important resource that we are working on. And education is one of the elements that protect the human there, especially since we are still under occupation. Education is not just to teach the people knowledge and skills but also to keep them aware of their rights and to keep them aware of other human issues around them. Education is how to keep memory, how to keep the history of the people, and also how to create a healthy peaceful person. Education in general in Palestine is now in danger.

We don’t have a problem with how many children go to school. We have a problem with the quality of education— the quality of education is down. The research says that depression is behind that; the depression of the people: the teacher who doesn’t see a future political vision in front of him, he becomes depressed. The people who don’t see that there is hope to have their own identity or their own state, they became depressed. The teacher is asked a lot of questions from the students that he doesn’t have answers for. He becomes depressed and the quality of education is low. That’s why the World Education Forum that we are organizing came about. We are trying as much as we can to bring people from outside to Palestine, and to integrate Palestinians within this process, hoping that Palestinians will become aware of how they can deal with the problems they face in education. And education, as I said, has other aspects that we hope the Palestinian will look at— education has social, cultural, economic, and environmental aspects. And that’s why we are looking forward to what we call global education and not local education.

How will the World Education Forum impact Palestinian society?

Having the opportunity to meet people from outside will help the organization of Palestinian education, including its unions. We hope the debate, discussion, experience, and practices that it will bring to Palestine will bring creativity and initiatives. I am sure when Palestinians see that there are people coming from India, Latin America, Europe, Canada, it will change them, it will give them hope. Whenever Palestinians have the chance to meet people from outside, and they realize there are still people in the world who fight for justice and fight for the rights of the other, it gives them hope— and when people have hope they work for peace.

What do you want the people from outside to bring to Palestine?

We want their experience, their solidarity; it means a lot to us. Break the siege. If the people go there, that is enough. You break the siege. You are saying to the world that we will not allow the Palestinians to be isolated, it is not fair.

What is the difference between the challenges of education in the West Bank and in Gaza?

I think this is a very good question because the challenge that we face is unity. The division among the Palestinian people has a really negative impact on education. For example, if my organization is working on civics and human rights, how will you be able to work on equality, citizenship, freedom and critical thinking and all these political rights while the people in the West Bank are not similar politically to those in Gaza. And the children and teachers, they have been affected a lot from this division because the teachers in West Bank and the teachers in Gaza don’t know what to say. So it has an impact on the teacher and the students, and it is one of the reasons for the declining quality of education in Palestine.

What will you have to do to improve unity?

The World Educational Forum in Palestine, this is what we can do; we cannot do much but at least we can do something. We will do it in Gaza, we will do it in Ramallah, we will do it in different locations with international participation. This I think will help to end the division that negatively impacts education. We have to work; we have to keep working as civil society for international solidarity because I think the division is not just internal. This is clear, it also has some influences from outside.

Does Israel control the content of Palestinian education?

Israel does not control the content of education but the peace agreement controls the content. There are a lot of Israeli organizations who look at what teachers teach in the schools. There is a committee that is monitoring what is going in Palestinian schools, which is not fair. If you want to monitor the Palestinian schools, monitor the Israeli schools as well. If you want peace, if you want justice, if you want people to re-educate themselves on peace, you have to work on both sides.

How will education help in the peace process?

Education alone helps in the peace process. If the teachers believe in its value, they will transfer it to the students. They are the kings of the classroom. We, our behavior, it came from our education. There is little space for it to come from outside. You spend 18 years in the school, with 8 hours or 7 hours per day. There you build yourself and especially the human and the point of view. It’s important that education build this. When we mention peace it doesn’t just mean the peace process: if there is the peace process or not, if there is negotiation for conflict resolution. There is another side, where you always have to work on peace, to work on the health of the human. This is peace, the real peace that we are working towards. When you are healthy, you can work, you can struggle, you can continue living in a positive way. Healthy is not to hate, healthy is to love others, healthy is to love yourself, healthy is to insist on your rights, healthy is to be in solidarity with others, healthy is to do positive things for others. This is what I mean when I say healthy. All people should work on their health, not just Palestinians.

Refaat Sabbah is the Director of the Teacher Creativity Centre in Palestine.

Photo: flickr/ Romana Klee