By: Ruba Anabtawi
An environmental student activity in one of Ramallah schools
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
The "Health and Environment" curriculum was designed by the Ministry of Education in 2001 for 7th, 8th, and 9th grades, however it was only in 2008 that the schools started teaching it. In 2015, a decision was taken to delete the book and add its content to the science and social studies curriculum. The book included general health and environmental topics for the student in a convenient way such as: the healthy lifestyle, smoking and its effects, mental health, reproductive health, adolescence, time management, first aid, food and diseases in addition to the concept of environment, the environmental system and the role of human beings, biodiversity in Palestine, how to establish an environmental club, natural reserves in Palestine, environmental pollution (water, air, soil and noise) and safe home environment.
The authors of “Health & Environment” expressed their opinions after the decision of deleting the book from the educational curriculum; Prof Samar Al-Nather who is an architecture lecturer at Birzeit University, expressed her dissatisfaction with the decision and wondered how a weekly class on environmental issues would exhaust the student but six classes of Arabic and mathematics would not exhaust them? Al-Nather has contributed to developing the curriculum through integrating units related to the cultural scene and engineering aspects. She believes that topics such as the environment contribute to improving the student's behavior towards nature in addition to reinforcing positive moral values.
The opinion of Dr. Malik Qutaina, a public health specialist and a major contributor to the development of the "Health and Environment" book, did not differ from his colleague Samar; he was also surprised by Afaq magazine about the decision of deleting the curriculum. He described the decision as a scientific betrayal of him and his efforts and said “I wish they had consulted or invited me before making any decision, I might have convinced them or they might have convinced me, it was necessary to consult the authors before making such a decision”.
Dr.Qutaina expressed "The idea of developing such curriculum was to support active learning, share personal experiences and enhance the students' interaction with the material through training the teachers to achieve these goals. He doubted that integrating environmental concepts with science will increase thei value, but on the contrary, this will result in teachers teaching the theoretical aspects without focusing on the practical aspect due to time limitations. Dr. Qutaina assured that the decision should not be based on the amount of taught curriculums, parents' complaints or any other objective reasons (according to the Ministry of Education). Rather, it should be looked at from the curriculums’ capacity to create positive change by improving the students' environmental and health behaviors and developing their skills in managing environmental clubs which are supposed to become active during the “Health & Environment” class.
Dr Qutaina ended by saying “I hope that the Ministry of Education has thought before deleting the curriculum with a mechanism to compensate for the environmental practical aspects in the science curriculum ".
The decision came after a scientific evaluation process
When asked about the deletion reasons of the curriculum, the director of the Curriculums Center, Prof Tharwat Zaid, said that what happened was integration with science and social studies and not elimination. He explained by saying that the decision was made following a review and evaluation of the curriculums two years ago with the participation of two hundred educational experts, a distribution of 21 thousand questionnaires between students, teachers and parents, a discussion of the educational contents by experts and a review of the educational studies and researches. This resulted in a set of conclusions, including the large number of curriculums which have placed a heavy burden on the students of primary and secondary grades.
For example, social studies subjects that are composed of four books including history, geography, national education and civil education were merged into one book (social studies) and the Science and "Health and Environment" were also merged into one book. He added by stating that some schools considered the “Health and Environment” book as an extra class (two to three classes per week), meaning they did not realize its importance.
Zaid strongly supports the merge and sees no diminution in the importance of the different disciplines and concepts, which, as we are told, are distributed in different curriculums from 1st grade to 12th. For example, environmental concepts are included in the geography (natural plant and biodiversity) and in science (Bioenergy, climate change, living organisms) whether as separate units or lessons from 3rd until 9th grade.
He believes that the obligation of teachers has increased more by integrating the material into the curriculum than in a separate book, because when the teachers see the content in the official curriculum, they take it more seriously.
It’s important to mention the contribution of some civil society organizations including MA’AN Development Center who created a reference manual for environmental education in 2007 followed by a practical guide for schools in 2010, both of which were designed by Palestinian researchers and experts in an intensive and enjoyable way to raise the students’ awareness about environmental aspects and promote environmental action by encouraging them to better understand the environment around them and helping them identify and resolve environmental problems, thus positively affecting the environment. The two manuals were distributed in most of the private and public schools but after asking sources from the Ministry of Education, we found that the guide is not being taught in the schools.
Translated by: Ghadeer Kamal Zaineh