Internet Chatting: An Education Without Borders
By Monica Awad
JERUSALEM, 14 April 2005 - On a hot sunny afternoon, Iyad and Nadine, two Palestinian school children were seated in a tiny square room, behind two computers. They were getting ready to participate in an internet chat on violence in schools with other school children from various Arab countries.
Iyad and Nadine, a 12 and 16 year old boy and girl respectively, were the selected Palestinian candidates out of total 28 nominees, to participate in the violence in school internet chat between school children in Djibouti, Morocco, Tunis, Yemen and occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).
As the clock started ticking towards 4 pm local time, which is the agreed upon time to start the internet chat, Iyad’s face was blushing and his hands were getting sweaty. “I was so scared when the chat started, my heart was beating fast. I knew I was responsible for speaking out on behalf of Palestinian children to other school children who are participating in the chat.”
Iyad is a 12 year old boy originally from the Gaza Strip. For the past two years, he has been living with his father Ali in the West Bank town of Ramallah, while his mother Eman and two younger sisters are in Gaza. His father has been trying to get his wife and two daughters into the West Bank town of Ramallah. However, due to restricted mobility, the family could not be re-united. “I only get to meet my mother and sisters in the summer when I am off from school and when my father is on vacation. I want to live like all children with both parents and my two sisters. My father always tells me that once the conflict ends, we will be able to live in Ramallah as one family.”
The chat was progressing but Djibouti was not able to join due to technical problems. “I always heard about Djibouti, Yemen, Morocco and Tunis, but I never had the chance to travel to these countries. I have only been to my hometown Gaza as well as Ramallah and Jericho. This chat is an education without borders. Through this chat, Israeli checkpoints cannot stop me from learning about different countries.”
Iyad was able to learn about the types of school violence that children from the participating countries encounter. “In Yemen, school children face violence from school management, while in Morocco, male students in co-ed schools are discriminated against. In Tunis, this phenomenon is not present. In oPt, we face three kinds of abuse: physical, verbal and psychological. The physical abuse is practiced most by teachers against younger students or by older students against their teachers, while the verbal and psychological are more practiced by teachers against older students.”
As Iyad was explaining the three types of violence and abuse practiced in schools, his big brown eyes lit up. “I felt that Nadine and I were doing very well in the chat. We were able to pose some questions and respond to queries in a timely manner.” Iyad is a fast Arabic typist; he even helped type his father’s Ph.D. dissertation. “When I come back home from school, and after completing my studies, I start typing my father’s Ph.D. dissertation waiting for my father to come back home from work.”
Iyad and Nadine through the internet chat, made many recommendations for mitigating violence in schools. Creating sports, cultural and art clubs for students and teachers in order to release their stress were among the key recommendations made during the chat. “We must have audiovisual equipment in each school including television set and video recorder. This will allow us to watch movies on the various towns of oPt - the towns that we are forbidden to visit,” said Iyad.
Two hours elapsed before the children decided to share their e-mail addresses. “I want to maintain a dialogue with these students in the other Arab countries. I always want to participate in internet chats but what I want the most is to become a famous soccer player in Royal Madrid,” said Iyad.
UNICEF has been working on violence in schools at various levels. It is currently carrying a national study on violence in Palestinian schools. Simultaneously, UNICEF is supporting a pilot programme in more than 600 schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip where more than 600 school counselors are trained on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, strategies to reduce violence and its impact on school children. Other activities include providing children with peaceful alternatives such as safe play areas and support to eight children’s municipal councils. In addition, creating a cadre of young journalists, supporting sports clubs and summer camps. All of these activities are supported by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).