At the last International Committee meeting of the World Social Forum (WSF), held in Montreal in October 2009, Palestinian members of Alternatives International suggested holding a World thematic Forum on Education in Palestine, in 2010. This suggestion was particularly motivated by the need to express strong solidarity with the besieged Palestinians of the Gaza Strip. The proposition was adopted unanimously and enthusiastically. The World Social Forum (WSF) was established a decade ago in order to provide the global social movement with a framework for political exchange and active cooperation in search of sustainable and alternative development models to neo-liberalism. The WSF grew rapidly prompting hundreds of continental, national, regional and local forums. The expansion of the WSF process triggered the development of thematic forums covering various themes among those, international cooperation, water, climate change and education.
The 2010 World Education Forum (WEF) to be held in Palestine will gather local, regional and international educators, practitioners, teachers, students, academics, decision makers, journalists and others to come together for mutual enrichment and learning. The WEF will provide a platform for cross-border dialogue, practical experience exchange, theoretical discussions, debating of ideas around the role of education and its economic, social, political and environmental impact at the local, regional and international level. The isolation of the world experience when it comes to educational practice within Palestine and outside will be broken down within the context of this model as it will work on bringing together educational movements from around the world in a shared experience.
5000 Palestinians and 300 international participants are expected to attend the WEF in Palestine between October 28 and 31. The venues of the forum will be polycentric, with activities organized in Haifa, Ramallah, Gaza and in Lebanon.
The main goals of the WEF are 6 in number. First, the intention is to provide a meeting space marked by the diversity of its representatives, as well as its themes and at the same time by the convergence of hopes and the fight for a society and a world where there is more justice, more democracy, and more solidarity. Second, the aim is to generate new and expanded high quality educational knowledge and tools in promoting greater social justice and equity between nations. The WEF will emphasize knowledge, skills and values related to environmental, economic and social sustainability. A third purpose is to explore how individuals and organizations involved in the WEF can become experienced change agents and change advocates to the extent that they can help effect qualitative improvements in teaching, educational policies, school and community dynamics. A key element in the program of the WEF will therefore be to develop the institutional change agency and advocacy skills of educational policy-makers and teachers. Four, the WEF aims to build new and strong alliances for mobilization and effective action between national, regional and international social movements and educational organizations. All of this will bring about intensified social, educational, cultural interaction, dialogue, solidarity between respective movements and organizations. Five, as a long-term output it is hoped that the WEF will result in launching world wide campaigns such as, campaigns against: commercialisation and privatisation of education; poverty; aids; political use of education; as well as campaigns for national Palestinian rights; women’s rights; new media campaigns which portray non-violent alternatives; human rights in education. Finally, it is anticipated that the WEF will promote international solidarity with the Palestinians in their legitimate struggle to freedom and an independent state. The forum will assist against the Israeli occupational practices towards Palestinians in general and their education in specific.
2. Palestine as the Venue
The decision of holding WEF in Palestine emanated from the need to impart the Palestinian educational experience to the world and equally the educational experience of participating member states to Palestine. Moreover, the WEF in Palestine aims to enhance educational exchange, whether theory or practice, based on educational experiences and the importance of dissemination. The forum will also induce knowledge and capacity building for local practitioners and educational professionals involved through the reciprocal exchange. The forum will also vocalize and contribute to the list of pressing issues that are gaining momentum and support from international organizations.
The Forum in Palestine is part of the international struggle for justice and freedom. The Palestinian call to hold the World Education Forum is a clear indication of the strength and determination of the Palestinian civil society in their struggle against Israeli occupation. The individual right to education is continuously violated due to occupational practices, be it the wall, military checkpoints, shutting down schools, using schools as a military base, arresting teachers and children, and others. The Israeli occupation continues to severely cripple the running and functioning of the whole educational system in Palestine hindering access and quality. Nowhere else in the World have educational and social concerns become as important as in the Middle East, where the unabated conflict finds its epicenter in Palestine. Education has served as a means of empowerment within the Palestinian community and as such has played a significant role within the community since 1948.
Many countries are engaged in public support campaigns with the purpose of lobbying and pressuring their respective governments to take a stand against the Israeli occupation and advance a just solution for peace. The forum will not only serve as a gesture of solidarity with Palestine but also celebrates the power of education in bridging cultures and practices and as an agency able to free people from oppression and their relative isolation. It is hoped that this forum will put the rights of Palestinians to a free and democratic environment for quality education at the forefront of the international educational debate.
In addition to the venues in Palestine the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon will organize activities linked to the WEF. The reason why we chose to incorporate the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is to make them part of the WEF, as well as to show our solidarity with the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and all over the world. Given the fact that Palestinian refugees can’t travel even though they are not allowed to travel to Palestine. As part of the idea to run activities in parallel all over the globe during the Forum, the activities organized in Lebanon will be linked to expanded activities all over the globe. Through video conferences Palestinians from Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem and Palestinians living inside the Green Line will link up with each other. Moreover
In addition to the venues in Palestine the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon will organize activities linked to the WEF. The reason why we chose to incorporate the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is to make them part of the WEF, moreover to show solidarity with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and all over the globe. The Forum intends to integrate all Palestinian refugees who are interested to be a part of the WEF though unable to be present due to travel restrictions. All activities in Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem, inside the Green Line, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and the rest of the world will run in parallel and will be linked to one another through video conferences.
The World Social Forum Process
Since the first world encounter in 2001 in Sao Paulo (Brazil), the World Social Forum (WSF) has taken the form of a continuous global process seeking and building alternatives to neo-liberal policies. The World Social Forum is held every two years now. As a part of the WSF globalization process regional and thematic Social Forums, such as the World Educational Forum in Palestine are organized with the support of the WSF International Council. They are thematic as they aim to meet the needs of deepening debates of specific issues. They follow the methodology and political criteria that the WSF Charter of Principles have set and they aim to make WSF closer to the reality of social movements and entities around different regions worldwide and vice-versa.
The WSF is a pluralistic, diversified, non-confessional, non-governmental and nonpartisan, decentralized platform. It aims to bring together organizations and movements seeking change at the regional and international level. The WSF is an open meeting place for networking, reflective thinking, democratic debates, proposal formulation, knowledge exchange, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neo-liberalism and the domination of capitalism and imperialism. The WSF seeks to strengthen and create new national and international links among organizations and movements of society that, in both public and private life, will increase the capacity for non-violent social resistance to the process of de-humanization the world is undergoing and to the violence used by the State.
Global educational challenges
Given that we are aiming for a forum that tackles pressing global educational issues, we would like to present an overview of these problems.
An in-depth assessment of the state of education revealed that the 1990s – a decade of Education for All – had seen little if any progress on extending education rights to people around the world. Examples of daunting challenges ahead are how to reach out with education to HIV/AIDS orphans in regions such as Africa where the pandemic is wreaking havoc; how to offer education to the ever-increasing number of refugees and displaced people; how to help teachers acquire a new understanding of their role and how to harness the new technologies to benefit the poor. And probably the most daunting challenge of all – in a world with 700 million people living in forty-two highly indebted countries – how to help education overcome poverty and give millions of children a chance to realize their full potential.
Faced with this stark reality and the increasingly vocal demands of campaigners, governments of rich and poor countries joined together at the World Education Forum in Dakar (Senegal) to strike a new deal which went well beyond the warm words and good intentions of the past, set forth in six concrete, time-bound goals:
• Expand early childhood care and education.
• Ensure all children, especially girls, complete free and compulsory, good quality primary education.
• Ensure equal access to learning and life-skills training for young people and adults.
• Achieve a 50% improvement in adult literacy rates.
• Achieve gender equity in primary and secondary education.
• Improve the quality of education – especially in literacy, numeracy and life-skills.
There is also growing recognition that education has been used politically and, unless challenged, the persistence of divergent views of history can be a source of latent conflict. To compound matters, recent studies have shown that youth around the globe are becoming increasingly violent at a younger age. Moreover the institutional education system is currently dominated by neo-classical economics, the values of competition and domination and the particular transaction of social, scientific, technological, and medical knowledge – that aids the profit making industries and fuels war between people and nations. Finally, the isolation of global social movements from each other and from the educational system, has severely limited the impact of their efforts to date.
At this critical juncture in the history of mankind, new forms of education are essential if we are to lay the foundation for peaceful co-existance. New concepts for education and knowledge are needed. Children and youth need to be prepared and empowered to deal with the challenges of the 21th century such as rampant inequality, globalization, poverty, warfare, inequitable distribution of the earth’s resources, climate change, gender inequality, racism, new mass media, conflict, etc.
Education in Palestine
Effect of the Israeli occupation on education
Since 1967, the Israeli military has interfered in the Palestinian educational process and imposed restraints in the educational development. The Separation Wall severely impacts the daily lives and movement of all Palestinians. Many students and teachers are prevented from reaching their schools, or are held for hours at checkpoints or wall gates. In some areas, Palestinians have to apply for permits (which they often don’t obtain) from the Israeli military to travel to their educational institutions, jobs, medical clinics, religious sites, markets, or to visit relatives living across the Wall but within the OPT. The absence of teachers and the inability to provide substitute teachers cause the students to leave school earlier. Female and male teachers are regularly insulted, abused, and subjected to body searches when they try to get to their schools on the other side of the Wall. School schedules are interrupted, students, and teachers’ attendance rate is lower, and students spend more time traveling to and from the schools than they spend learning in the classrooms. The disruptions usually cause the students and teachers not to complete the curriculum assignment for the year, and a large part of the textbook is never studied, especially in the final secondary school-grades. Additionally this often leads to canceling extra-curricular informal activities such as after-school sports activities, field trips, and summer camps. The occupation played an important role in the low academic achievements of students, especially during the second Intifada as schools were destroyed or closed for prolonged periods denying children the right to education. Soldiers took over schools and used them as military barracks. The education system in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip suffered from serious neglect, including an infrastructure that was allowed to deteriorate as school buildings were not renovated and few schools were built as permits for expansion or building were refused.
Due to the political situation in Palestine, the magnitude of the society’s psychological distress is alarming. Military Occupation has not only destroyed houses and public facilities, but has also uprooted the sense of being human. Children have been brought up in an overall atmosphere of daily violence, even prior to the second Intifada. Disobedience and revolt are not only reflected at home against parents and elders, but also inside the classrooms, against teachers and society as a whole.
Between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, the Israeli military carried out an attack on the Gaza Strip named Operation Cast Lead. The magnitude of the harm to the population was unprecedented: 1,385 Palestinians were killed, 762 of whom did not take part in the hostilities. Of these, 318 were minors under age 18. More than 5,300 Palestinians were wounded, of them over 350 seriously (B’tselem figures). According to UN figures, Israel destroyed more than 3,500 residential dwellings and 20,000 people were left homeless, in addition to damage to industrial buildings, agriculture and infrastructure for electricity, sanitation, water, and health. At least 280 schools out of 641 in Gaza were damaged and 18 destroyed during the military operation.
Educational institutions across Gaza are still reeling from the effects of the Israeli offensive, compounded by the more than two-year-long Israeli blockade. Rebuilding the destroyed and damaged schools and other infrastructure is almost impossible due to a lack of building materials, as a result of the blockade. Schools lack essential education materials and basic items such as desks, doors, chairs and ink for printing. The classrooms are overcrowded.
The damaged schools lack toilets and water and electricity networks. More than half of Gaza’s population is under the age of 18 and the disruption to their education, due to the damage caused during Operation “Cast Lead” and as a result of the continuing Israeli boycott, is having a devastating impact.
The ongoing Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip (started in June 2007) and the War on Gaza has triggered a “protracted human dignity crisis” with negative humanitarian consequences, according to a new report released today by the United Nations relief wing (entitled “Locked In: The Humanitarian Impact of Two Years of Blockade on the Gaza Strip.”). At the heart of this crisis is the degradation in the living conditions of the population, caused by the erosion of livelihoods, rising food insecurity and the gradual decline in the state of infrastructure, a protracted energy crisis, and the quality of vital services in the areas of health, water and sanitation, and education, in addition to the fact that the Palestinians in Gaza are cut off from the outside world.
Internal educational challenges
The political situation within Palestine can be characterized by volatile changes and fierce development challenges especially at the educational level. The ratio of students to teachers is most of the time very high especially in Gaza Strip (up to 40) which makes the burden on teachers to manage the classes very heavy. Some schools even have a two-shift system. Teachers’ motivation is very low due to work overload, the burden of administrative and bureaucratic work, low salary, the absence of incentives, etc. There is a lack of teachers’ training, moreover the provided trainings are very theoretical and focused on old methodologies. As a result there is a shortage of qualified teachers. In addition to this, many schools suffer from inadequate sanitary facilities, shortage of basic school equipment (audio-visual aid library books, maps, models, computers, school furniture, science tools, etc.) and the absence of basic school facilities (libraries, science labs, sport fields and gym facilities, etc.)
Approximately 2.4 million out of 4 million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories live in poverty. 40,000 children work in the occupied territories due to difficult financial condition. Early marriage contributes to 46% drop-out rate for female students especially in the secondary level due to limitation of compulsory education and the worsening of the economic situation.
Violence is on the increase as invasions by the military authorities continue, internal divisions continue, the economic situation is dire, occupier-imposed mobility restrictions are debilitating. In addition to children being exposed to violence they are finding themselves in school environment unable to shield them and offer a sense of safety.
Despite all of this, Palestinian achievements in the field of education have been remarkable. This is attributed to the peoples’ will and the Palestinian Authority’s emphasis on education as a necessity and policies adopted in favour of quality based education. There is much to be learnt from the Palestinian educational model, practices and work on ensuring educational accessibility under extreme poverty, severe occupational challenges and on-going check points.
For decades, a plethora of social movements and organizations working on the theme of education have been quietly engaged in strengthening the social educational processes within Palestine and around the globe. These movements are, in fact, the support group and force that could cause a major and decisive change in the world. During the WEF more bridges with civil society forces and social movements in the Arab world, Asia, Latin America and Africa will be build.
Social and political movements, educational institutions, trade unions and concerned individuals around the world call for support on the struggle against terrible political conditions in Palestine, as well as working with local forces in addressing the political struggles.
Specifically with regard to education in Palestine social and political movements, educational institutions, trade unions and concerned individuals around the world aim to:
• To document, research and raise awareness of the issues facing Palestinian education under Israeli military occupation.
• To build an international campaign in support of Palestinian students, teachers and educational institutions.
• To oppose the illegal Israeli occupation and its attacks on Palestinian education, demanding the right to education and unimpeded access for all Palestinians to their educational institutions, in order to reduce the “social deficit” incurred by the occupation.
• To create international networks of solidarity and support between Palestinian students, teachers, academics and educational activists in Palestine, and their international counterparts.
Democratically, egalitarian and fair education
The fundamental principal of the WEF is that “public education for everyone is an inalienable human right guaranteed and paid for by the state. It must be democrat, egalitarian and fair.” The right to education is essential for the access to all other rights. Education is an essential component for the construction of values based on solidarity, the full deployment and practice of citizenship, as well as to create changes for a better future.
For all the above reasons the WEF organizers and participants takes a stand against:
• all neo-liberal policies in education and training
• the subordination of education to the demands of the market
• the increase of private funding or public – private partnership in the founding and running of schools
• the deepening of social inequalities that enhances social exclusion
• the impoverishment and the restructuring of the curriculum, both of which subjugate education to commercial logics and rationales
• the casualisation of school workers and the introduction as well as consolidation of all kinds of flexible labour conditions
• racism and neofacism
Education, as an inalienable right for all, must be a high-quality public good. For this reason the WEF organizers and participants are wholeheartedly determined to fight for:
• the increase in public investment in education (at least 7% of GDP).
• the promotion of critical thinking and the full exercise of active citizenship.
• the development of schools for children as part of the public service
• a Higher Education and research in the service of the democratic promotion of knowledge and of creativity.
• the acquisition of the necessary and desirable qualifications by all young people, that would enable them to develop each in his/her own way.
• an awareness of gender differences and equality of access and rights. For an education that does not adapt to male stereotypes.
• a high quality professional training and labour conditions for all education workers.
• the inclusion of the non-formal education as public and free services.
• the integration into all education grades of students with additional needs.
• migrants’ and refugees’ free access to all educational grades and for the recognition of cultural and linguistic differences as a common value.
• the recognition that the debt that affect the so-called developing countries is not legitimate and prevent an appropriate investment of those countries in elemental matters as education.
• the energetic participation of young people in the social process and for the active exercise of their rights
• cuts in spending on war and for a substantial increase of education funding.
• the promotion of peace, cooperation, solidarity, and of human rights for all, without discrimination.
• the access to professional training in a public service, as a right for all.
• Schools, Higher Education institutions, extra curricular activities and every other area of education must become a democratic and collective public place which welcomes, recognises and creates relationships among all those who participate in the educational process (teachers, students, pupils, parents and the community).
Education as a Change Agent
The slogan of WSF ‘make a new world possible’ refers to the ultimate struggle to change the dominant mind set. Therefore the WEF organizers and participants will support activities that promote development and sustainability, and respect and further develop cultural knowledge, and thus contribute to making development aid superfluous. The most important aspect is that the educational activities support a development process that promotes awareness raising, identity, individual development and self-respect, solidarity, unity, participation, engagement and community spirit. Education should provide the knowledge, skills, motivation, understanding and respect for others, which are crucial for constructive resolution of conflicts and the creation of a more peaceful and equal world. It should sharpen awareness of the existence of bias, and non-peaceful or equal relationships between people and within and between nations and investigates the causes of conflicts, violence and inequality embedded within perceptions, values and attitudes of individuals as well as within social and political structures. This forms the platform for enabling people to become genuine change agents by doing something about their own situation and working for social change. Additionally new forms of collaborative education are essential if we are to lay the foundation for peaceful co-existance.
Protecting the right to education
The WEF is proposed with a firm commitment to the World Declaration on Education for All (EFA) and a strong commitment to the vision and goals of Dakar. The right to education is more fundamental than ever for building equal and just societies. Promoting equity in education is essential because over 75 million children do not have access to primary school, learning outcomes are poor in many countries and some 776 million adults lack basic literacy skills.
Education is an empowerment right and the primary vehicle by which economically and socially marginalized adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty. And yet, in all regions of the world minority children suffer disproportionately from unequal access to quality education, therefore being robbed of their full human potential and their ability to contribute fully to their own communities and to the wider society. It is the responsibility of governments, organizations and individuals to defend the universal right to education and to demand its realization.
For that reason the following aspects of the educational system will be examined thoroughly during the WEF: the curriculum and its techniques; inclusiveness and quality; violence and national security in educational institutions; administration, planning and finances; centralized and decentralized education; monitoring and evaluation; teachers’ training; apprenticeship education; curriculum and pedagogy; teacher competence and motivation; examination; purpose of education; change agency and advocacy in education; integrated and holistic education; role of Parent and community involvement.
Mutual Experience Exchange
During the WEF social movements, networks, NGOs, student movements, parents’ associations, trade unions and various other social organisations opposed to neo-liberalism and a world dominated by capital or by any form of imperialism will come together to pursue their thinking, to debate ideas democratically, formulate proposals, share their experiences freely and network for effective action. Throughout the WEF emphasis will be placed on the networking and lobbying within the education sector and more widely. Participants will instill new ideas in one another by means of mutual sharing, support and encouragement. It is anticipated that a well-trained, committed and creative network of educators’ models of noteworthy practice, will become a significant vehicle and voice for change within schools and the educational system more generally.
Globalization in solidarity
The alternatives proposed at the WEF stand in opposition to a process of globalization commanded by the large multinational corporations and by the governments and international institutions at the service of those corporations’ interests, with the complicity of national governments. They are designed to ensure that globalization in solidarity will prevail as a new stage in world history. This will respect universal human rights, and those of all citizens - men and women - of all nations and the environment and will rest on democratic international systems and institutions at the service of social justice, equality and the sovereignty of peoples.
The WEF philosophy is that education is primarily the collective responsibility of every society towards their young people for transmission of knowledge, skills and culture. Furthermore, the authorities of a country have an overall responsibility for the implementation, quality and availability of education. Different interest organizations, teachers’ unions, students’ unions, institutes and independent institutions also play an important role as pedagogical alternatives, critics of and supplements to the public education. It is important to contribute to having a diversity of participants in civil society who are critical and engaged participants in the development of society.
Education as a liberating tool
This quote from the Brazilian educator Pablo Freire captures the very essence of education. Education is liberating in that it enables people to overcome injustice, poverty, and fear. ”Education for liberation” means that active participation will create increased political consciousness and provide every participant with greater opportunities for seeking solutions to their own problems. Good education enlightens, raises awareness, develops and liberates individuals, groups and communities as well as it provides people with the tools for critical and independent thinking. Awareness of one’s own situation and role in society is a precondition for development and democracy.
The World Education Forum aims to work to reinforce the concept of education as a fundamental human right and a key for sustainable development, the establishment of peace and stability among countries and a cooperative world community by seeking improvements in education policies and practices to meet the individual and shared educational needs of people of all ages.
1. Building a meeting marked by the diversity of its representatives, as well as its themes and at the same time by the convergence of hopes and the fight for a society and a world where there is more justice, more democracy, and more solidarity.
2. Generating new and expanded high quality educational knowledge and tools in promoting greater social justice and equity between nations.
3. Emphasizing educational knowledge, concepts, policies and mechanisms to tackle violence, inequality and violations against the right to education.
4. Developing and honing the institutional change agency and advocacy skills and dispositions of educational policy-makers and teachers, as well as their ability to seed those same capacities in their students.
5. Building and sustaining new and strong alliances for mobilization and effective action between national, regional and international social movements and educational organizations.
6. Launching world wide campaigns within the context of the educational forum such as a campaign against: commercialisation and privatisation of education; poverty; aids; political use of education; as well as campaigns for national Palestinian rights; women’s rights; new media campaigns which portray non-violent alternatives; human rights in education.
7. Strengthening social, educational, cultural interaction, dialogue and solidarity between national, regional and international social movements and educational organizations.
8. Sharing cultural experiences and local identity, all along with respect for the others and cultural diversity.
9. Promoting international solidarity with the Palestinians in their legitimate struggle to freedom, an independent state, right to education.