Prioritizing Quality for the sake of Peace in Jerusalem.
The Peace Preschool was established in 1982 as part of Jerusalem’s International YMCA. Picture a school, as an inclusive space that is welcoming to Jews, Christians and Muslims; a peaceful environment where children from as young as 6 months old are safe to explore and develop in relation to others they share the city with.
EQUALITY, MULTICULTURALISM AND TOLERANCE
The preschool is a space that values and practices equality, multiculturalism and tolerance, in a country where relations between different cultures and faiths can be tense. Experiencing the environment, meeting class-teachers, observing the children and in-depth conversations with the director (Alexandra Klein-Franke), reveals so many good practices that the preschool has put in place to provide bilingual and multicultural education:
- each class at the Peace School has a Hebrew speaking and an Arabic speaking teacher – this gives the children a diverse experience and enables them to hear and speak both languages fluently
- the three main languages – Arabic, English and Hebrew – are given equal validity, for example in the way they are written side-by-side (rather than top to bottom), and either all handwritten, or all typed
- strong relationships are built with families by celebrating festivals through sharing stories, food and art
- the role the director / principal plays is once again vital – she provides the environment and creates the culture for ‘the work’ to happen; staff are treated as equals; standards of behaviour are modelled by the director, and the director supports staff to work together (collaboration is discussed later)
Alexandra shares how parents choose the Peace School because they feel that it equips their children – from a very young age – to exist, develop, inhabit and thrive in a diverse society. Parents that want their children to have a natural sense of equality, contribute to the goal of multicultural and bilingual education; they value trust and partnership.
Through observations and conversations with locals, Israel is clearly an unequal and segregated society, and in this sense, resonates with the current South African context. Arabs appear to be treated differently to Jews; in Israel and particularly Palestine. In terms of education, Jews seem to have more opportunities and greater access to further study and training in comparison with Arabs, which includes teacher training.
Learning first-hand from the context in which the Peace School operates, through observation, listening to and appreciating their unique achievements and challenges, one begins to recognise that Soul Action is also going to need to prioritise as part of the process of establishing a school in the Inner-City which values amongst other things affordability, different learning styles, excellence, inclusivity, and strong leadership.
In taking the next step there is a sense, at least from the Peace School’s perspective, that to address the economic and / or racial differences that still divide Durban, the first need is to ensure that the provision of quality education on offer is the priority; this is to start – the ‘rest’ (inequality and integration) will follow.
What one takes away from the Peace School – like many of the schools operating in other different / similar contexts around the world – is that quality education relies on the leadership, leaders that are capable and committed to creating a healthy environment / culture where ‘the work’ that needs to be done can happen.
In remaining true to a philosophy, and the values attached to it, how these values work out in practice, i.e. the habits that develop – intentionally & naturally – are paramount in developing a culture for teaching & learning.