TYO Celebrates International Children’s Day

Yesterday, TYO celebrated United Nations’ International Children’s Day. About 200 community members, including children and parents, came to TYO’s Open Day to enjoy an exciting array of activities, including art and sports activities, face painting and debka.

A special thanks to all the  TYO volunteers who did an incredible job orchestrating the day and leading activities.

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TYO in Sin City!

What a thrill – over 3,000 people took part in a magnificent evening showcasing Arab music and culture in Las Vegas tonight, thanks to Dawn Elder World Entertainment and host, MGM Grand. The evening was coordinated in honor of International Children’s Day, and designed in the service of Arab children worldwide. Read more in our last post here.

I might be partial, but the most exciting part of this event was a 90-second highlight of TYO as an example of the type of work to be supported by the initiative. A huge thanks to TYO partner, Students of the World, for their help getting the video together in time! We are also grateful to the Public Affairs Office at the US Consulate in Jerusalem for their support of the documentary project through their Small Grant Program.

Check it out – TYO kids, staff and volunteers LIVE IN VEGAS!!

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A triumph of humanity, not of technology!

The first ever World Innovation Summit for Education put on by the Qatar Foundation in Doha last week was a great success. The intelligent and forward-looking ideas and programs discussed throughout the conference represented a ‘triumph of humanity, not of technology’ – a phrase coined by Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, in the Wednesday morning plenary with regard to their aspirations for the now-ubiquitous micro-blogging platform.

Having the rarely paralleled budget to fly and accommodate 1,000 delegates from all over the world undoubtedly helped QF to gather the varied, dedicated, talented and truly global audience. And while certain aspects of the event were quite un-innovative (i.e. traditional conference format, limited wireless accessibility in session rooms), overall, the 3 days of discussion were extremely valuable, promising great things for WISE 2010 and beyond.

I found the Innovation plenary on Wednesday morning particularly interesting, and in the name of the event’s overriding theme, wanted to share some highlights from that session. Professor Sugata Mitra of Newcastle University wowed the crowd with his ‘Hole in the Wall’ – an experiment demonstrating the value of ‘self-organized’ learning for children of all backgrounds, in all contexts. Between myself and colleagues from Birzeit University, hopefully Prof Mitra will join us in Palestine very soon to help us replicate the lessons he’s learned to promote intellectual curiosity and self-learning among at-risk and hard-to-reach children. One colleague made the valid point that teachers would never be irrelevant or unneeded. It is not enough to provide kids with access to information: we must provide some guidance to shape and direct their learning. In the ideal case, I absolutely agree. However, Professor Mitra’s method (learn more about his striking results here) is a wonderful option for communities who otherwise have no access to education.

“Mediators,” not teachers, are required for Professor Mitra’s work – not repositories of knowledge, but rather warm individuals who admire children’s natural curiosity and drive to explore the world around them. Again, I would be the last to make all teachers redundant. However, in hard-to-reach and low-income communities, this is a very interesting supposition. Perhaps programs like Teach for American (and soon Teach for All) can lead to successful hybrid models of trained teachers and ‘just-good-smart-and/or-dedicated-people’ as ideal brokers of learning in usually marginalized communities.

Another important tension that surfaced throughout the event, and particularly during this session, is that between public and private provision of education and related services. One panelist made the valid point that this is an old and tired debate, which we must move beyond toward a widely accepted consensus that it can be neither one nor the other. New partnerships are required to adequately provide the access and quality that all children in the world have a right to (as laid out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which celebrates 20 years today under the shadow of 70 million children out of school). Alex Wong, director of the World Economic Forum’s Global Education Initiative, made a valuable point based on his experience in Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and Rajasthan, that governments, at the Ministry level, need to hold ultimate responsibility and oversight for the field of education. However, he endorsed without reservation the essential value of engaging private and civil society partners as sources of innovation, increased coverage of remote areas and insurance of education’s relevance to eventual economic activity.

Finally, Biz Stone asserted that all beings on earth learn through play: a message that I particularly appreciated, coming from the early childhood and non-formal education sectors. His message about Twitter’s massive success was also familiar to TYO: wait to see how people use a technology or service in order to advance its design. This advice resembles TYO’s needs-based approach to implementing our programs on the ground, based on an original mission and vision.

Great video coverage of the event is available on the WISE website, and some fellow participants (Times Ed correspondent Michael Shaw and educator/blogger Tom Barrett) have done a good job of covering various aspects of the event. Despite the predictably vague laundry list of ‘strategic priorities’, we are hopeful that WISE members will challenge themselves to integrate the conference’s lessons in their work. Further, the recurrent mention of early childhood education was inspiring – while it didn’t come out in the Final Declaration as hoped, it was a real pleasure to meet so many like-minded folks. Keep your eyes on this space for further news about the evolution of partnerships developed at WISE 09!

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Free money for TYO’s kitchen and library

Yet another Facebook challenge – this time, you get 20 (FREE) votes to choose the charity that ‘matters’ most, and Chase will give them up to $1,000,000. YES, that’s One Million Dollars.

As you may have been reading in the news, or our Twitter feed, Early Childhood Education matters. Especially for children growing up in poverty, amidst violence, or other stressful conditions, having access to high-quality programs during their earliest years is proven to improve their chances of doing better in school,having higher-paying jobs, and staying out of jail. As far as we’re concerned, those are results that matter!

So, especially today – International Children’s Day – take a second to vote for TYO and other child-focused charities in the Chase Community giving program. And spread the word 🙂

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Making school fun… Even on Saturdays!

DSC_7-11-2009 (42)

When they approached us this summer, Tomorrow’s Youth Organization was glad to respond to UNRWA’s request that we get involved in their Education Rehabilitation Plan. Concerned about falling rates of achievement in UNRWA schools, particularly in Arabic and Math, UNRWA’s central office in Jerusalem led the creation of a multi-year strategy to better support students who are struggling to pass standardized tests, beginning in Grade 3. Teacher training, de-centralization, and increased attention and care for children’s mental health are three focus areas of the strategy. The fourth is community engagement: leveraging the know-how and relationships of organizations in the schools’ communities to enrich the services that UNRWA is able to offer at-risk students.

In the context of this fourth pillar of the Education Recovery Plan, the TYO team spends each Saturday at a different UNRWA school. Two schools initially asked TYO to participate in their Saturday sessions, but word quickly spread, and we now divide Saturdays between three schools, with several others lining up for our services. As the program becomes more established, we hope to identify the resources needed to replicate the model of TYO’s involvement at other UNRWA schools in Nablus and elsewhere in the northern district.

For now, a dozen TYO-trained staff and volunteers from An Najah University each lead a group of students, from 6 to 16 years old, in games and activities designed to build teamwork, creativity, problem solving, and to provide an outlet for energy after spending an extra morning in tutoring sessions led by UNRWA teachers and volunteers.

Imad – TYO’s volunteer coordinator – along with Ahmad Hanani (health teacher) and Haitham Okeh (sports teacher) support TYO volunteers to plan activities each week, depending on what the students responded well to (or not!) during the previous session. He is now helping volunteers to work with older students on improving their school community: identifying first, the problems they observe, then possible solutions, and finally a feasible plan to address the most urgent problems that are within their control.

The Head Teachers of the schools where we’re working have expressed in no uncertain terms their gratitude for TYO’s contribution to their new Saturday sessions. Students are more likely to attend the optional programs to have a chance to participate in TYO-led activities; they focus better in the classroom in advance of the release provided by physical and social activities led by TYO; and the divides between cliques of students are fading as a result of their blending between different TYO groups (Imad wisely insisted on dividing them, rather than students choosing their own groups).

Congratulations to UNRWA on a great initiative to meet an important need of Palestinian children! Most importantly, credit is due for recognizing the value of engaging other community actors to support these at-risk students holistically, rather than trying to address their academic development with a monolithic approach. We look forward to continuing and expanding the cooperation between TYO and UNRWA in the service of Palestinian children’s academic and personal development!

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Photo of the Day: Why not Pink!

Pink BusYoussef, 7, rocks a very cool sweatshirt 🙂

Photo of the Day: Ready, Set, Go!

Go!Morning Program participants enjoy a game with hats in Haitham’s class.