Complaints about school curriculum among students, parents
Fadi Abu Sada
Five years ago ? since September 2000, the Palestinian Authority, represented by the Ministry of Education, introduced a new curriculum for elementary through secondary classes. Amendments were made to all the levels except the 12th grade Tawjihi class, the amendments to which are to be made at the beginning of the scholastic year 2006-2007.
Ever since the changes were announced, there have been conflicting viewpoints as to the real reasons behind these amendments. Some consider them as a result of external pressures on the PA while others say they were a necessary and urgent development.
However, there must be a comparison between what the curriculum was then and what it is now in order to understand the true changes in them and the benefits or negative aspects of these changes on those who made them and on the students and teachers.
In the past, schools did not give any homework to students in the first three elementary classes, given that in this stage, the student was only introduced to what school, teachers and education actually mean. Now, however, things have changed. These classes now take Arabic, English, math, science, history and geography. They also take civil and national education, which means that the students never go home without homework.
One teacher, Mr. Emil, who works at a private school in Beit Sahhour, says the new curriculum has put tremendous pressure on the students, especially at the elementary level. The first thing he complained about was the weight of his bag that he must carry coming and leaving school. “Teaching has become complicated. First, you must make the student like school. Then, with this new curriculum, we have been forced to introduce many classes that could be considered as entertainment for the student in order to lessen the burden on them such as gym, arts and music. There is even debkeh as one expression of Palestinian heritage.”
As for Nidal, a teacher responsible for teaching Arabic to grades four and five, she says, “The curriculum is no doubt stronger than what it was in the past. But I must also say it is harder and requires more preparation time from the teacher. It is also not very harmonized. For example, in the Arabic grammar lessons, the curriculum introduces four types of pronouns in one lesson. This is too much because the students will not comprehend them except if they are introduced one at a time. If we want to give students their due justice, this would mean pronouns would need at least a week.”
Wafa, a teacher responsible for second grade and who teaches English and math said, “No doubt, the curriculum is broader and more comprehensive in terms of applications and exercises for the student. However, it is completely scattered and there is also a gap in the curriculum in terms of a clear lack of exercises that students should do. So, the teacher must cover this by giving worksheets that they prepare.”
“As for English, the books are too long and each have 24 units. It is impossible to finish them in one school year. I think these were the mistakes that were made.”
Dr. Saleh Yassin, head of the curriculum department in the Ministry of Education told PNN that, “the new curriculum is considered a radical jump and change from the traditional concept of learning. New subjects such as home economics and technology were introduced in order to keep with the times.”
Commenting on the homework that students are now made to do, Yassin said, “Homework is complimentary to the education process. It is part of school life for those who want to learn.” Yassin continued, “Life in general has become complicated. Therefore, more effort is required then before. For example, in order to use a mobile phone, you must read the manual. Or for anything else you want to use, you must read in order to get what you need.”
As for how politics relates to the change in the curriculum, Dr. Yassin said, “The entire process is, of course, political. How are we supposed to begin establishing a Palestinian state while the curriculum in Gaza is Egyptian and the one in the West Bank is Jordanian and in Jerusalem, Israeli? So, having a Palestinian curriculum has become a national demand and the principle reason for this change was the pressure of the Palestinian street for this.”
As for making the curriculum “peaceful”, Dr. Yassin said, “Of course it is peaceful because books are not cannons; because they tell the truth and those who want to know the truth must go back to the references to find it.”
But, in spite of Yassin’s clarifications, parents and teachers are still in argument with this. Lamis Najib, a student in the fifth grade says it took her four hours to study for a math test that covered four pages.
Lamis’ father thinks the curriculum is too hard and is above the student’s mental capabilities at every stage. What has happened, he says, is that houses have become schools after the students come home after a long day of studying. What is more, the teachers acknowledge this fact and cannot deal with the curriculum without special courses in order to move with these changes.
The question now remains, why was this radical and quick change made without taking into consideration students’ levels and comprehension abilities and also the ability of parents to keep up with them without giving the teachers a chance to get to know this curriculum so they could work with it?
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