Living Under Occupation: Experiences in Palestinian Schools


Professor of Digital Learning John Traxler has spent time in Palestine, supporting work to develop education technology. Here, he highlights the problems facing teachers and children living under occupation.

"The student suffers from a psychological crisis and sleeps next to his family in Al- Shweikeh because one of his relatives was martyred and the soldiers come every night to search the house. This led to the child's fear of everyone at school and need to constantly go to the bathroom."

This is just one quote, typical of many, coming from Palestinian primary teachers in Nablus, in the north of occupied Palestine. They were describing the impact of the Israeli occupation on their professional lives and the lives of their students.

Difficulties of the daily commute include:

"The daily checkpoints between the school and the house, involuntary returning from the checkpoint to the house, the late arrival of the school, the separation wall and standing in front of the gates for hours."

And there are constant interruptions to teaching and learning:

“The Israeli army's entry into the school leads to violence and squabbles which affects the learning environment.”

“Lack of focus due to fear and long vigilance due to the soldiers’ presence in the camp, psychological anxiety among students, lack of ambition and lack of hope.”

"The presence of the tank in front of the school and the denial of access to the school were a major reason for our inability to focus on education as the time was wasted by talking about it amongst students."

Teachers also describe how learners in school are affected by experiences in their everyday lives outside school:

"..having an empty chair with a martyr’s photo on it and the refusal of students to sit on the chair in order to commemorate and respect the martyr, leads all the students to continuing talking about him and remembering the incident."

“The imprisonment of the head of the family affects the stability of the family negatively, involuntary urination of students who faced a soldiers’ invasion into their homes, <leads to> school violence as a result of the violence from occupation.”

These quotes come from focus groups held with six groups of teachers on the campus of An Najah National University in Nablus.

The topics grew out of a large-scale survey of more than 500 teachers that explored the impact of the occupation on teachers’ professional lives.

It highlights pervasive problems in maintaining the continuity, consistency and quality of a school system under constant pressure from interruptions and disruptions from the occupation. Checkpoints, curfews and closedowns, not to mention stark episodes of injury, imprisonment, violence and death, are all having a major impact.

One teacher remarked that no child in her class was unaffected by a death or wounding in their immediate family.

Other parts of both the survey and focus groups explored the role of digital technology in ameliorating this impact, using technologies such as SMS, websites and videos.

The findings also talked about the combined impact of the lack of specifically Palestinian digital resources and restrictions on travel, particularly to Jerusalem, depriving their students of a fuller sense of their Palestinian identity.

Our research was to explore ‘digital literacy’, a significant concept in UK university education. It focuses on those skills, attitudes, knowledge and access that support the survival and prosperity of individuals in an increasingly digital world.

There are criticisms within UK higher education that the digital literacy curriculum, where there is one, is just the old “Introduction to IT” curriculum rebadged for today’s graduate skills employability agenda. The criticism focuses on the extent to which criticality, creation and citizenship are under-represented but in the specifically Palestinian there were concerns about the UK model as well as:

  • The focus on the individual with no mention of the community and the culture
  • The lack of recognition of the hegemony of global English, of American digital technology, or of the synergy between them and the language, values and culture they embody
  • The role of digital space and digital identity for a community and culture with severe constraints on its physical space and its physical identity
  • The need to express widespread trauma, loss and pain in circumstances where meeting or demonstrating may be prohibited or problematic

The findings seem to support this critique and should underpin a more comprehensive and appropriate definition of digital literacy for the Palestinian education system, from kindergarten and schools to higher education and adult community learning.

  • This particular project, funded by a CBRL travel grant and led by Professor John Traxler, with considerable help from Professor Alan Nevill, built on the author’s on-going missions and projects in the region, including significant work with UNRWA, the British Council and EU Erasmus programmes, in Palestine, in the wider region including Lebanon and Gaza, and with refuges in Europe. The next is a more comprehensive and critical look at how the wider area of digital thinking relates to the Palestinian university situation.




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