Guatemala says it is moving embassy in Israel to Jerusalem

This file photo taken on November 28, 2016 shows Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shaking hands during a joint press conference after signing bilateral agreements at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. (AFP)
Updated 25 December 2017
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Guatemala says it is moving embassy in Israel to Jerusalem

GUATEMALA CITY: Guatemala is to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, President Jimmy Morales said Sunday, becoming the first leader to back US President Donald Trump’s controversial change of stance on the holy city.
After speaking with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Morales wrote to Guatemalans on his Facebook page that “one of the most important topics was the return of Guatemala’s embassy to Jerusalem,” from Tel Aviv where it is currently located.
“For this reason I am informing you that I have given instructions to the foreign ministry that it start the necessary respective coordination to make this happen,” Morales wrote.
Guatemala’s leader made the announcement on Christmas Eve, and three days after two-thirds of UN member states rejected Trump’s decision to have the United States recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
In all, 128 nations voted to maintain the international consensus that Jerusalem’s status can only be decided through peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Only eight countries stood with the United States in voting no to the resolution held in the UN General Assembly, among them Guatemala and fellow Central American country Honduras.
Guatemala and Honduras are both reliant on US funding to improve security in their gang-ridden territories.

The two nations are, along with El Salvador, in what is known as the Northern Triangle of Central America. Violence, corruption and poverty have made them the main source of illegal migration to the United States, which is giving them $750 million to provide better conditions at home.
Morales, like Trump, was a television entertainer with no real political experience before becoming president of Guatemala in 2016.
On Friday, Morales foreshadowed the decision he was to make regarding Jerusalem, as he defended his government’s vote at the UN backing the United States.
“Guatemala is historically pro-Israeli,” he told a news conference in Guatemala City.
“In 70 years of relations, Israel has been our ally,” he said.
“We have a Christian way of thinking that, as well as the politics of it, has us believing that Israel is our ally and we must support it. Despite us only being nine in the world (in the UN vote), we have the total certainty and conviction that this is the right path.”
Morales’s position has become fragile in recent months because of allegations of corruption against him being investigated by a special UN-backed body working with Guatemalan prosecutors.
The United States ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, has said her country would “take names” of the states voting against its position. She added that when it makes contributions to the UN, “we also have a legitimate expectation that our goodwill is recognized and respected.”
Several significant US allies abstained from the UN vote, among them Australia, Canada, Mexico and Poland.
Others, such as Britain, France and Germany and South Korea were in the majority of 128 nations denouncing any unilateral decision to view Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The eight countries on the US side of the vote were: Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo.


Palestinian schools strive to modernize classrooms

Updated 19 September 2018
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Palestinian schools strive to modernize classrooms

  • Schools in the Palestinian territories have traditionally emphasized memorization and obedience over critical thinking and creativity
  • Palestinian educators now hope the use of technology and the arts will create new opportunities in a society that has produced large numbers of unemployed college graduates

RAMALLAH: As the teacher pointed to the large touch screen, her first-grade classroom came alive. With the click of a link, an animated character popped up on the screen, singing and dancing as it taught the children how to read.
The day’s lesson was the Arabic letter “Raa,” and the screen displayed cartoon pictures of objects that contain the letter — desert, chair and pomegranate — as the teacher asked the children to come up with other words. The students smiled and sang along.
Just a few years ago, such scenes were unthinkable in most Palestinian classrooms. Like elsewhere in the Arab world, schools in the Palestinian territories have traditionally emphasized memorization and obedience over critical thinking and creativity.
With an eye to the future, some Palestinian educators now hope the use of technology and the arts will create new opportunities in a society that has produced large numbers of unemployed college graduates.
“The students don’t need to memorize things. They need to understand first,” said Ruba Dibas, the principal of the Ziad Abu Ein School in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “Then they need to express their understanding through writing, speaking, drawing, acting.”
Ziad Abu Ein is one of 54 “smart teaching schools” introduced last year. This year, the number tripled. By 2020, all 1,800 public schools in the West Bank are to be part of the program.
Dibas said the goal is to eliminate testing from the classroom. Instead, she said students need to enjoy the learning process to absorb information.
On a recent day, her school was buzzing with activity.
In a fifth-grade classroom, each child had a tablet and the teacher guided them through an Arabic lesson, using her own tablet to give assignments. Third-grade students went to the smart board, playing a game to learn the multiplication table.
In other classes, students drew cartoons to learn the physics of how airplanes fly. An English class did a project about evaporation.
Four third-graders recently learned about self-esteem in a lesson called “learning by drama.” They performed a short skit about a shy girl who discovers a passion for journalism and grows up to become a successful reporter.
Their teacher, Sawsan Abdat, said the children learned an important lesson that day — that they need to find what they are good at.
After initial skepticism from parents last year, enrollment at the school has nearly doubled. This year’s first grade has nearly tripled to 43 students.
“I love the school,” said Malak Samara, a 9-year-old fourth grader. “We learn and enjoy. We learn and play.”
These techniques are a radical departure from a system in which generations of students were forced to memorize information and cram for exams under the stern watch of an authoritarian teacher who in some cases would beat them with a stick if they could not complete their work.
But with the unemployment rate for new college graduates hitting 56 percent, according to the Palestinian Statistics Bureau, officials realized that something had to change.
Education Minister Sabri Seidam also introduced vocational training in grades seven, eight and nine last year to meet the needs of the market.
“Society needs singers, carpenters, cleaners, athletes, sergeants,” he said. “We can’t just produce engineers and doctors.”
Youth unemployment, particularly among university graduates, is a major problem across the Arab world. It was considered a driving force behind the Arab Spring revolutions that rocked the region in 2011.
Arab governments used to absorb new graduates, often in civil service jobs, but they can no longer afford to do that, in part because of the region’s “youth bulge.”
The private sector offers limited opportunities, leaving large numbers of young graduates unemployed throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
“There is no greater challenge facing the MENA region in its efforts to build a future based on inclusive growth than job creation,” the International Monetary Fund said in a report early this year. It noted that 60 percent of the region’s population is under 30, the world’s second-youngest after sub-Saharan Africa.
“Pressures on the region’s labor markets are rising. In the past five years, the region’s working-age population increased by 50.2 million, and 27.6 million people joined the labor force. Yet employment increased by only 25.4 million,” it said.
Others in the Mideast have tried to make similar changes. In Egypt, the largest Arab country, the Education Ministry this year is providing students with tablets, along with a new curriculum that enhances critical thinking.
The ministry said it is also trying to improve the level of instruction by increasing training and wages for teachers, building more classrooms and creating a more modern classroom through digital learning facilities. The government this year secured a $500 million loan from the World Bank to help fund the reforms.
For now, it appears too soon to say whether the reforms can make a difference.
The region’s authoritarian governments might encourage education reforms as an economic necessity but could balk in the future at efforts to nurture a new generation versed in critical thinking. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, governments in the region have increasingly stifled expression.
Schools across the Arab world face other obstacles as well. A 2015 study by the UN culture and education agency UNESCO talked about chronic underfunding, a lack of qualified teachers and increased class sizes throughout the region.
Syrian schools have been devastated by a seven-year civil war, while many schools in neighboring Lebanon have been overwhelmed by Syrian refugees. US cuts in funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees have jeopardized the school year for some 500,000 students, most of them in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And Israel’s half-century occupation of the West Bank, along with a decade-long blockade over Gaza, continues to stifle the Palestinian economy.
“Education in the Arab world is in a very bad condition. The salaries of teachers are very poor, the classes are overcrowded, and schools lack the essential infrastructure,” said Saeda Affouneh, director of the E-Learning Center at Al-Najah University in the West Bank.
She praised the changes taking place in Palestinian schools.
“But this new system faces real challenges in the Palestinian schools,” she warned. “They need to train the teachers and to provide the proper resources.”