“How we set up a curriculum framework for kindergarten education in Palestine”
Early childhood development
Education specialist Ilham Nasser describes the process of ensuring that young Palestinian children get the best possible chance to fulfil their potential.
“Let us invest in the Palestinian child and support him and her to rise. The Palestinian child is our hope and as such early childhood education is the mechanism to attain our future as a nation.”
This was said by Sabri Saidam, Minister of Education and Higher Education (MOEHE) of the Palestinian authority at the launch of the first Palestinian national curriculum framework for kindergarten education in May 2016.
Almost half of all preschool children in the State of Palestine have been without proper nursery education. But educators, diplomats, politicians and researchers have all collaborated to change this with the curriculum initiative.
In the past couple of years, early childhood development (ECD) has moved up the global agenda – with many countries now making it a priority to provide nurturing early care, particularly for the poorest and most marginalised children.
Theirworld’s #5for5 campaign is raising awareness of early childhood development and putting pressure on world leaders to take urgent action to make sure all children have access to nutrition, health, learning, play and protection.
Here, Palestinian educator Ilham Nasser Ph.D – Senior Researcher at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and an education specialist – explains how she was part of the process to set up the national curriculum framework for kindergarten education. She did this while working with American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA), a nongovernmental organisation investing in renovations and training of early childhood education teachers in Palestine and Lebanon.
The launch of the framework was a very touching moment and the minister’s energy and optimism resonated – so much so that this event was the catalyst for the design of the first ECD Palestinian curriculum (officially known as a kindergarten curriculum).
It also marked the first step toward a national agenda that prioritises early childhood education and provides guidelines and policies to benefit Palestinian children and ensure their welfare in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza despite the occupation.
Sadly, the reality of the geographic separations in Palestine and the siege on Gaza prevents educators and ministry personnel from coming together in person to take part in events held in the West Bank. (Video conferences are used).
In Palestine today, only 40% of young children have access to preschool education and retention numbers may be lower.
Non-governmental organisations have been leading the effort to improve the early childhood development sector, especially in the areas of in-service teacher training and mentoring, and preschool upgrading and renovations.
The development of an ECD curriculum framework would be a significant contribution to efforts to increase enrolment and retention of young children in preschools, as well as improving the quality of services for young children.
After several meetings with all the stakeholders invited by the ministry, the decision was made that I would assume a leadership role in the process and work with the various NGOs on a national document for all children in the three areas identified above, including Gaza.
As no NGOs were able to physically participate from Gaza, we again used video conferencing to share our progress with educators, faculty from local universities and ministry officials.
What I didn’t know was that Gaza had already started the work on a framework without the working group’s knowledge. Apparently, Gaza had already committed to a funder who expected not only a quick release of a framework but also a curriculum. A striking example of reliance on funders to set the agenda.
Halfway through the process, I learned that I needed to consolidate the documents from Gaza and the West Bank into one that represents all of Palestine.
When I questioned the feasibility of accomplishing this, I was reminded of local political dynamics and the importance of creating a curriculum framework to support national unity.
I, of course, understood the delicate situation and knew I had to act quickly and diplomatically.
The ministry launched work on the project by inviting all ECD parties to a meeting where they could present their ideas on a framework. I thought this would be a good starting point, where we could listen to concerns and explore ideas collaboratively.
When guiding the group, I stated that the document we create will have to respond collectively to our aspirations as educators and our attempts at answering three main questions:
- What do we want young children to learn in kindergarten?
- How should they learn?
- And why?
Each time we met, we spent about three hours discussing every aspect of the document. Some of the educators and NGO ECD experts had strong opinions about what should be included in a framework. It was critical to listen to their ideas and ask them to draft parts of the framework.
We would then review and revise the framework together. Some of the most difficult discussions concerned learning outcomes, especially with regard to including religious and civic outcomes.
Some people were advocating for reciting religious phrases while others suggested the need to focus on age-appropriate ways for children to learn values and religious practices.
After listening to all sides of the issue, I carefully reminded everyone that we should ensure age-appropriate outcomes. Reciting phrases may not encourage children to learn concepts at a deeper level.
I offered information about how young children learn best and the group accepted my advice.
I looked at what Gaza had prepared and found obvious differences in some of the learning outcomes. This was especially true for religious education outcomes.
The Gaza document outlined a stronger inclusion of religion that did not take into consideration religious diversities and the multiple religions that are represented in Palestine.
The West Bank version or the Gaza version? I managed to amalgamate and find a common goal for both in terms of ECD which took diplomacy and an understanding of the significant differences.
I was proud of both the collaborative process and the outcome. Overall, everyone was working toward the same goal and had their minds and hearts in the same place.
They all wanted the best for the children in Palestine, to ensure they could learn to their full potential and be safe.
Having gained the trust of stakeholders and demonstrated the ability to listen and consider all opinions, I was invited by the ministry to come back to work on writing the actual national curriculum for Palestine.
This effort brought me back multiple times during the 2016-17 school year and ended with the launching of the first-ever national curriculum for Palestinian kindergartens in October 2017.
Ilham Nasser was previously an Associate Professor from George Mason University in Virginia, USA.