A New Peace

Irish Institute uses expertise to sponsor new program aimed at Middle Eastern and North African teachers

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

The Irish Institute, renowned for its effort to foster unity in Northern Ireland, is applying its expertise to another troubled part of the world as it hosts a group of Middle Eastern and North African educators in a program aimed a promoting openness and understanding in their classrooms.

The International Interdisciplinary Program, developed by the Irish Institute for the Boston-based Center for Higher Education in the Middle East, Inc., is the first step in the center's University of the Middle East Project. That project includes plans for a system of linked campuses throughout the region to help build relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims.

The program, which began June 10 and runs through Aug. 8, is being taught by Boston College faculty. It includes 19 secondary school educators who will learn innovative teaching methods as they work together to solve common problems for educational systems in their home region.

"We live in a small world now, and the gap between us is not as big as it seems to be," said CHEME President Hala Taweel, sister-in-law of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. "This program is an example of how something like higher education can bring people together and help them share what they have in common.
Prof. Richard Nielsen (CSOM) leads a class in the International Interdisciplinary Program for Middle Eastern and North African high school teachers on Monday. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

"Boston College is sending a very powerful message in having its Irish Institute host the program," she added. "The University is very courageous to take on this task, and it demonstrates the institution's global perspective and its concern for the human condition. This is a lesson in humanity."

Organizers say the Irish Institute - where Taweel, a doctoral candidate in the Lynch School of Education, served as an intern - is an appropriate venue because of its experience in offering programs that seek to encourage conflict resolution, such as "The Task of Government," which is working to strengthen political leadership in Northern Ireland.

"The Irish Institute was chosen primarily because it serves as a model for working with communities that are in some ways divided," said Irish Institute Director Sean Rowland. "It is important to realize, however, that this program is interdisciplinary, and depends on the top-quality, cross-campus expertise Boston College has to offer."

The 19 participants, most of whom teach English, represent Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and the Palestinian authority. The 10 men and nine women, ranging in age from 24 to 40, were selected from among 250 applicants based on their fluency in English, an essay on their teaching priorities, and involvement in their communities and societies.

During their stay, the educators will attend seminars, workshops and lectures, which curriculum coordinator Prof. John Savage (LSOE) said emphasize the role of the teacher as a guide to facilitate active, thoughtful approaches towards the discovery of information and knowledge. Current teaching in the Middle East revolves largely around a lecture format.

"For many of these educators, this is a new model of teaching," said Savage. "They are very serious about kids being the future of the Middle East, and believe it is critical to help this generation create new ideas that go beyond the old stereotypes. The kind of education the children receive, therefore, will be essential to achieving this goal."

The sessions will cover areas such as comparative education, World Wide Web and other technology, cross-cultural education, cooperative learning practices and alternative teaching methodologies, conflict management, and enhancing motivation among students.

Asked what interested her about the program, Yehudit Zilberman of Haifa, Israel, instantly replied, "Everything - the whole idea of meeting with people from across the region, as well as looking at methodology and technology. I felt that by coming here I could grow, as a teacher and a person."

"It is important for the children to learn a new way," said Cairo, Egypt, resident Wael Ghali Samir, "so we must learn a new way, too."

Participants also will travel to local high schools to observe summer classes and talk with faculty. In addition, they will visit organizations whose programs link education with community service and other social concerns, including City Year in Boston and Seeds of Peace, a Maine summer camp for children from the Middle East and North Africa.

An important component in the program, organizers note, is that the educators will learn how to create and maintain Web pages for their respective schools, enabling students and other teachers to utilize technology as an educational tool. The Web sites will be linked with one another, allowing participants to keep in contact after the program's conclusion.

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