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The Early Childhood Education System in 2006-2007

Saturday 11 August 2007

The NSWAS early educational department currently comprises three stages, which it defines as Nursery (3 months to 2 years), Prekindergarten (ages 2 - 4) and Kindergarten (ages 4 - 6).

In the 2006-2007 school year, the nursery had 9 children, out of which 7 were Jews and 2 were Arabs. The prekindergarten had 9 children, again with 7 Jews and 2 Arabs. The kindergarten had 23 children, out of which 21 were Arabs and 2 were Jews. In the whole system, there were 12 children from NSWAS itself, with the rest coming from other communities in the vicinity.

In the nursery, there are three teachers: Sahar, Malka and Yvette. In the prekindergarten there is one teacher, Dana, 1 assistant and a volunteer. In the kindergarten, there are two teachers, Bernadette and Hagit and an assistant, Nailla.

Maha Sader is responsible for the whole system, working two days a week for the professional development and empowerment of teachers, improving the educational environment and other management issues. "Every place needs an organizer who will see how the entire system works, in a holistic way, and delegate duties and responsibilities as needed." Maha is an interesting and important addition to the early child education team. She was born in Beit Jala (near Bethlehem) and has an MA in early childcare education from the University of Wales. She is also on the staff of the Early Childhood Resource Center, with branches in Hebron, Jerusalem, Jenin, Nablus and Ramallah. The center works on the development of early childhood education, through working with teachers and raising the awareness of the community.

This was Maha’s first year of working with the early childhood department in NSWAS. Like any good organizer, she began by learning what was working well, and looking at what needed to be changed. "What we really needed to do was to establish goals for the educational system, and to plan how to accomplish them, rather than working in a spontaneous way. By the end of the school year, children at these age levels need to acquire certain skills, and we must be sure that we have done all that we can in order to make sure that this is happening. At the prekindergarten level, for example, main areas of skill acquisition related to nutrition, hygiene, language, sensory motor and social skills and we had to make sure that our desired objectives in each of these had been achieved by year’s end.

Early child education is very challenging work for the teachers in any system. It involves spending long hours with children who require constant attention. And, unlike in the rest of the school system, the teachers only receive a short two-week summer break. It is important to be aware of the needs of the teachers and to strengthen the staff. In the NSWAS educational system there are also specific challenges related to the binational nature of the system. One of the activities for teachers involved working with the School for Peace specifically on Jewish - Arab issues. For this there was a series of meetings for the teachers after the school day.

"Another issue with which we are attempting to work is the professional development of the teachers. We would like to expose the teaching staff to a variety of methods, in order to see what works best in our special system.

"Already, this year, we established contacts with an Italian organization that has a method of using art work in early child education. With the help of the Italian Embassy, teachers in this method will visit to conduct a special training."

Although the NSWAS Educational system presents special challenges for teachers, it offers many advantages for the children. Among these are language acquisition and the different cultural issues. It is known that children exposed to more than one language at an early age increase their ability for language learning when they are older. Also, the children learn to adopt a more flexible approach to reality, since they know that the same object or concept can be defined in more than a single way.

Maha also points out what people living in the village often forget - that this is a beautiful environment for children, close to nature and a relaxed, comfortable space. This is particularly significant for the children who come here from urban settings, such as Ramleh and Lod.

Maha and the rest of the team have been working hard to increase enrollment for the 2007-2008 school year. They have produced a colorful new brochure on the early child education system and, since the recommendation of parents themselves is the best advertising, have involved parents in the work of promoting the system. Recently, the staff also arranged an open day for parents, in order that they could see the work and the facilities for themselves. As a result of these efforts, next year we expect a significant increase in the number of children at all levels of the system, and this will require the recruitment of additional teachers.

One of the most important signs of success is when children who graduate from the kindergarten continue up to first grade at the school. This year, 12 out of the 16 children in the final year of the kindergarten plan to continue at the primary school. The fact that these children already feel at home in the NSWAS educational system and have acquired the necessary language skills, will surely strengthen the school.

Photos show end of year activities in the three levels of the early childhood education system.

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