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Interview with Hanan Al Hroub, Palestinian winner of the Global teacher prize 2016

On the 7th of July 2017 Hanan Al Hroub, the Palestinian winner of the Global teacher prize 2016 by Varkey Foundation, participated in the The Twenty First Annual Women’s Conference for Peace in The Middle East in the United Nations Vienna as a main speaker and participant in “The Global Women’s Peace Network”.

Al Hroub was invited to the conference to represent her experience and approach as an internationally renowned Palestinian educator. She has been awarded the prize for her best educational qualities as a teacher working under occupation and inside a refugee camp. Al Hroub was recognized as the best teacher in the world in 2016 by the Varkey Foundation for her unique educational skills and methodology using games with children to overcome traumas and to accelerate their learning abilities and skills. She has also launched her book: “We Play and Learn”, documenting her methodology and approach. Not only is Al Hroub recognized internationally for her unconventional educational approach but also for her slogan: “No to violence.”

In this article, Al Hroub shares her thoughts and experience throughout an interview made with Alhroub in Vienna proceeding her participation in the Women’s Conference for Peace in the Middle East.

Hanan Al Hroub, can you please inform us about your invitation to the conference and the highlights of your presentation in the Women’s Conference for Peace in the Middle East- Vienna?

I participated as an educational prizewinner and I came to share my experience as a Palestinian teacher living and working under occupation. The conference invited various renowned women internationally to share and present their achievements; with special focus on the role women can play in conflict zones and their approaches to host peace values defying conflict.

How do you define peace and what approaches did you share in the conference?

As a Palestinian refugee and teacher, the term “Peace” has a different meaning to me than to an American or British woman. I have always struggled to recreate a safe and peaceful environment inside my classroom or inside my house for my children and the students I teach. This environment contradicts with the reality outside the classroom walls, where the occupation is a major part of the Palestinian landscape. As a teacher in the classroom I intend to defy all psychological barriers that forbid children from realizing their best qualities and abilities which block their dreams or ability to imagine a better world. Since we still live under occupation, this is a political reality, which cannot be denied. However, we cannot surrender to this bitter reality and become passive beings.

My role as a teacher is to host a peaceful environment rich with values of peace, understanding, dignity and hope amongst children. My role is to create a better reality through education. When children are practicing these values amongst their peers and with their teachers they learn better and eventually develop mentally and psychologically. I believe if children feel safe they will surely become creative and work peacefully together. Consequently, this will affect their capacity to nourish and grow as strong persons serving the community they live in. The occupation encompasses many aspects of our lives as Palestinians, but as a teacher I have realized that children can challenge conflict if you provide them with hope, love and creative games. My methodology as a teacher depends on games that have an educational objective. Each game gives the children the opportunity to tackle conflict and overcome it by teamwork, dialogue and the task of problem solving. My role and methodology over the years completely relied on creating a better environment inside schools and to provide children with the maximum skills to grow as internally peaceful as possible to challenge the external factors around him or her. I truly believe in nourishing a child’s peaceful mindset and psyche to allow him to play a positive role in the future in his own community. On another level, as a Palestinian active woman I seek peace that is just for us Palestinians; I believe in conflict resolution that asserts our dignity, rights and freedom as Palestinians.

Can you please tell us more about your book: “We Play and Learn” and your methodology as a teacher?

My beliefs as a Palestinian teacher and woman are reflected in my approach and methodology in education. In my book “We play and Learn” I explain thoroughly how I used educational games, recycled objects and tools from the Palestinian environment to create a peaceful and creative environment inside my classroom. I have an organic garden, a puppet theater and an art and craft corner; my classroom environment opposes all the odds outside the school environment. It is vibrant, interactive and creative. The book explains how in the most challenging environment, potential change and conflict resolution is possible. My games pursue an educational objective altogether emphasizing the elements of strength in a child’s upbringing.

I do follow the Palestinian curriculum and I do teach the schoolbooks but my games allow me to recreate the curriculum creatively and to work interactively with the book. I see the differences amongst the students, their skills and backgrounds and I wish not to make them all identical. Education can allow children to be different and productive. When I use educational games, I allow these differences to arise positively in the classroom’s environment, each child is different and unique and the games allow children to play and learn in a very positive environment, one that does not drag them into vulnerability or lack of interest in education. These games ultimately create an empowered Palestinian child, it allows the children to realize their qualities, aspirations and work towards their goals. I always say: if one of my students would like to become a leader of Palestine in the future, my role as a teacher is to provide him or her with the best qualities of leadership and not only to gain certificates or high degrees of education. My games are all about learning in an attractive and peaceful environment.

What are your future observations and comments about Palestinian education?

I perceive my prize as a prize to all Palestinian teachers and to the Palestinian education in general. I hope one day soon I will visit all Palestinian schools and I can share my approach on a wider level inside my Palestinian society. Many creative and exceptional teachers are working silently in many schools in my country. I hope more teachers in Palestine will be rewarded and recognized morally. I also hope that more investment is going into the educational sector to develop our country to its maximum capacity. We are struggling towards freedom; every teacher in Palestine is not only teaching science or literature or merely school books, we are all investing in the maintenance of the Palestinian identity and the continuity of struggle against occupation until we achieve the freedom of Palestine. Even then, the educated Palestinians are the ones who can build a strong and progressive Palestinian state. Every student and every teacher is playing a role in making this dream come true. I am part of a bigger image where we are all working towards a brighter future for Palestine.

The prize and the international attention I have received allowed me more to share my vision as a pedagogue but also my beliefs as a Palestinian citizen seeking freedom from occupation. I perceive education as a true path and the best tool of resistance against all forms of oppression. Education has been always and will continue to be the path to freedom of Palestine.

The interview was conducted and edited by: Bayan Shbib (Cultural Affairs Officer; Mission of the State of Palestine to Austria and Slovenia)

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