I spent my first Friday in Nablus with one of TYO’s youth volunteers and her family. She has five children and her oldest daughter had just begun her final year of high school. I was there for many hours enjoying lunch and was struck by her daughter’s dedication to studying for the Tawjihi, the matriculation exam used in Palestinian schools. As I helped her review some of her English comprehension, she explained that high marks determine where you can go to university and even dictate the job you can get. She explained that you begin to prepare for this exam from first grade and continue throughout your entire education; senior year is when you really start to get serious. No wonder she was studying in October for an exam that she would take six months from now—it decides her future! I thought about the time I spent studying for standardized tests in the US and while I had definitely prepared for the major ones, I always had the comfort of knowing there were other options to show my strengths if I did not get the scores I wanted.
I was reminded of this experience when I recently listened to Ken Robinson’s Do Schools Kill Creativity? TED Talk. I have taught at TYO for about seven weeks and I am teaching completely through physical activity, play, and art. I have begun to see how important TYO’s unique curriculum is for these kids. They spend their entire educational careers with a massive exam in the back of their minds. As Ken Robinson explains in his speech, that approach in schools is “educating people out of creative capacities”. He points to the hierarchy of education: math, languages, sciences, humanities, and then art, as the reason we are squandering our capacities to think outside of the box and creatively problem solve. With the Tawjihi stressing math, science, and language it is clear that is what is being taught most heavily in Palestinians schools.
TYO provides an educational experience that helps foster creativity. You cannot walk through the center without noticing the children’s art displayed or without passing by a class where children are singing a song. Based on my experience as a teacher these past few weeks, it is clear that children love art, they love music, and they love to dance, so I make it a point to incorporate at least one of those in each class. TYO’s mission to provide psychosocial support to these children extends beyond teaching through painting and dancing. Each week, children are exposed to a different psychosocial theme in the curriculum; the first six weeks of the Core Program for 4-5 year old children include:
- I am Valuable
- My Family
- My Neighbors
- My City
- My Country
- My World
All classroom activities are designed around these topics and engage the students to think about their personal and creative identities.
Too much of our focus in education throughout the world is on what is being taught. It is important to remember that we also need to teach students how to learn and how to love learning. If children are not exposed to an educational atmosphere that helps them develop a variety of different social and emotional skills, they will likely lose interest in learning far before adulthood. And as I have learned, helping children find their creative voice presents itself in endless techniques, including art, dance, and sports.
Robinson concludes his TED lecture with a call to action to reprioritize what schools teach to better promote creativity. In his opinion, when education challenges a student’s whole being, it is preparing that student to face all of life’s challenges. I would argue that TYO is challenging traditional education norms because they are challenging the students to actively participate in this educational experience that digs deep into their intellectual and emotional being. After listening to this specific lecture, I was proud to be actively participating in a center that values all forms of education and inevitably helps prepare students to face life’s challenges.
Sarah, Fall 2015 Intern