The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has conducted a major new study, in partnership with the University of York, UK, on classroom practices in the Agency’s five fields of operation. In early July, representatives from across UNRWA fields met in Amman to discuss its findings and their implications on the UNRWA Education programme and the over 490,000 Palestine refugee students it serves.
The study, Looking into UNRWA Classrooms, establishes current teaching practices and explores the attitudes and perceptions of head teachers, teachers and students. With support from the University of York, UNRWA staff observed 230 classrooms in Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. In all classrooms, teaching behaviours were systematically recorded, while video recording was used in 32 sample cases.
Professor Frank Hardman of the University of York, an expert on education in emergencies and post-conflict situations, was in Amman to present the findings of the study. He noted that UNRWA schools rely largely on “teacher-fronted talk, with teacher explanation, teacher-led recitation, cued elicitations” and use of chalk- or whiteboards. As compared with highly ranked systems such as those of South Korea, Singapore or Finland, he said: “There was very little of the types of teaching behaviours that international research shows are practised by the strongest education systems.”
Dr Caroline Pontefract, UNRWA Director of Education, emphasized that the findings should be viewed positively, saying: “The analysis of UNRWA teaching practices will provide us with a different kind of data and give us a new way to review what is happening in our classrooms and the implications for children’s learning.” Dr Pontefract added that with further study, the data can shed light on other questions. It can also be used to inform the results of other studies and evaluations, such as the Agency-wide learning assessments conducted in May 2013.
The full Looking into UNRWA Classrooms study will be available by the end of August, and its results will be more widely shared. In Amman, UNRWA staff from the fields discussed the positive messages of the study relating to the teachers’ motivation and appreciation of the support from education specialists. The focus of the workshop, however, was on using the findings of the study to better serve UNRWA beneficiaries, by reviewing the specific finds and needs of each field, as well as strengthening the implementation of the education reform, which seeks to transform classroom practices throughout the Agency.
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