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06 October 2005

U.S. Program Brings Internet Access to Schools in Need

Palestinian, Bangladeshi teachers travel to U.S. for computer training

By David Shelby
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – The Internet can provide students with an open window to a vast world of information, ideas and cross-cultural interaction, but in many countries a lack of computers in the classroom prevents students from having access to the educational opportunities on the Web.

One U.S. organization, Relief International’s Schools Online, has teamed with the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to address this problem through the Global Connections and Exchange Project.

“When a student opens the Internet, he sees other students – students from America, students from Japan, from any Arab or foreign country.  So it inspires a sort of intellectual opening for him.  It allows him to see how other students are.  It changes his perspective.  It raises new interests for him,” says Banan, a Palestinian schoolteacher who recently traveled to the United States for training in how to integrate the computer technology available at her school’s new Internet Learning Center (ILC) into the curriculum.

Banan’s school is one of more than 400 schools in 35 countries that have received computer equipment and Internet connections over the past five years through Relief International’s Schools Online program.  The program is designed to bring information and communication technologies to schools lacking adequate resources throughout the world.  Currently Schools Online is establishing ILCs and training teachers in the West Bank, Gaza, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

Mohamed Abul Kashem, a Bangladeshi teacher, said, “Our students are getting benefits from this program and they are gradually improving themselves.” 

The students are not the only ones benefiting from the new technology, however, as Palestinian teacher Mohammad Abuhatab pointed out.

“This visit here in America gives me more information about Internet Web sites which are related to education and how to collaborate via Internet communication with other teachers all over the world,” he said.  “This is very useful and a very interesting thing.”

He added that the training program and his subsequent observation period in a U.S. high school gave him new ideas about how to use the Internet as an integral part of his classroom.

Banan agreed that the program has given her an invaluable tool to improve her teaching.

“I knew a few basics about Web sites, but now I know how to get into any site, do a search and find all the information I want.  Of course, this is useful for preparing classes, researching questions, preparing exams, for everything,” she said.

The teachers said that the Internet is a valuable tool for classroom projects as well.  Palestinian teacher Anwar Almuhtaseb said that his school has established a media wall where students post stories and information that they find on the Internet.  The weekly topics for the media wall are coordinated with subjects the students are studying in their English classes.

Bangladeshi teacher Sarker Wahida Jahan also pointed out that the students can find information on the Internet that is not available in library books.

Almuhtaseb said he will train other teachers in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Hebron “to give them the chance to be aware of the modern teaching methodologies in the United States, the modern techniques of presenting a good, planned lecture and also to let them know more about curriculum developments and modern methodologies and integration between computers and curriculum in the class.”

Abuhatab noted that a nationally coordinated computer-based curriculum would be useful in the Palestinian Territories to help compensate for the lack of geographic contiguity between Gaza and the West Bank and the difficulty of movement between Palestinian cities.

As part of the training program, each of the teachers spent a week observing classes in U.S. high schools, and they were impressed with the educational philosophy they saw practiced.

“Here, the student is at the core of the process.  The teacher’s role is simply to facilitate the educational process,” Banan said.  “For instance, you tell a student he has to prepare a certain text, and he goes and studies.  Of course, he has the desire to learn on his own.  You don’t have to keep pushing him.  So the student studies on the Internet, and the teacher helps him the next day with the learning process.  The learning process is centered on the student.  So the teacher’s work is easier.”

Abuhatab said that this sort of system teaches students to take responsibility and that this sense of responsibility extends beyond the classroom to the students’ activities in the community.

Banan insisted that such a system could be equally effective in Palestinian schools if the students were given the same facilities.  “In our educational system, you find outstanding teachers and outstanding students, but if they have greater opportunities, that produces a better education,” she said.

More information on the Global Connections and Exchange program is available on the State Department’s Web site.