Qatar Foundation International
My Voice- My School
My Voice-My School is a joint response of UNRWA, Digital Explorer and Skype in the classroom. It is based around online video conversations between Palestine refugee children from Syria, Gaza and Lebanon attending UNRWA schools in these fields and their peers in Europe and the USA. Through the use of these video conversations, online digital media and specifically-designed curriculum materials, children will benefit from the sense of solidarity across borders and will also develop the skills needed to advocate for their own education and future.
The project is situated within the UN Sustainable Development Goals, specifically Goal 4: Quality Education, as it emphasizes 'quality education' as a right of every child and it provides opportunities for students to voice their ideas on what makes education 'quality'. It reflects the principles and practices of the UNRWA education reform by empowering students to think and share ideas about teaching and learning including student-centered approaches and the use of technology in the classroom.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), American Friends of UNRWA (UNRWA-USA), Digital Explorer, and Qatar Foundation International partnered to expand the My Voice-My School (MVMS) program to include schools in the United States during the 2016-2017 academic year.
The My Voice-My School project connects students in the U.S. and Europe with Palestine refugees in UNRWA schools in the Middle East (Gaza, West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria) to discuss the importance of education advocacy. MVMS puts children at the heart of the conversation of what education should look like and appeals to the international community to continue to prioritize education funding, particularly in the context of the Syria crisis.
In the MVMS program, students start by exploring each other's lives, experiences, and aspirations, alongside an understanding of the global education context. Following this, the classes connect via Skype to discuss their experiences of education and what can be done on a local and global basis to secure quality education and the building blocks needed to attain their aspirations. Having reached agreement on the focus of their education advocacy project, the students work separately in their own schools, keeping in touch online, while learning the skills needed to become effective advocates and taking concrete action in their schools and communities. They meet again in a final Skype conversation to share the results of their work and the lessons they have learned.
From November 2016 through February 2017, students at George Mason High School in Falls Church, Virginia and the Jalloud Preparatory School for Girls in Lebanon connected for the MVMS program. Throughout the program, students learned about the importance of quality education and divided into teams to survey their peers about ways to improve their educational environment. Students at Jalloud school advocated for a community theater and the need for more teachers trained to work with special needs students. U.S. students advocated for better access to drinking fountains, the need to create spaces for students to "destress" throughout the school week and semester, and requested additional courses to enrich their curriculum – specifically sign language and culinary arts. Students also exchanged photo essays for sharing more information about their school environments.
In summer 2016, QFI sponsored the creation of supplementary literacy material for the MVMS curriculum that aligns with Common Core standards in the U.S. More information about the curriculum resources can be viewed at http://www.arabicalmasdar.org/resources/my-voice-my-school-resource-set/
All resource materials can be found at the following sites:
Palestinian students in UNRWA schools in Gaza (Palestine), Syria, and Lebanon.
8/9th grade students in U.S. and Europe.
Support for My Voice-My School program expansion in the U.S. comes from Qatar Foundation International.
The My Voice-My School program is supported by Digital Explorer, which provides training for all teachers involved in the program. Digital Explorer also developed the curriculum for My Voice-My School in cooperation with UNRWA. Throughout the exchanges, Digital Explorer provides support for the participating schools and also raises awareness of the importance of education for Palestinian refugees through media.
Since this is a pilot program that we are hoping to expand in 2017-2018, evaluation took place with focus group discussions with the teacher and students participating.
All students who participated articulated that this experience opened their eyes to the importance of virtual exchange as a way of connecting with people that they might not interact with in their lifetime. This program broke down stereotypes and allowed the U.S. students to understand their similar interests, but also witnessed how their Palestinian counterparts valued education. This made the U.S. students reevaluate how they often take education for granted. Additionally, the U.S. students were required to conduct surveys in their schools about how they can improve education. One of the responses was to offer more languages for students. They presented the results of their surveys before the principal and were actually able to help with the decision to bring in a sign language instructor in the future.
The My Voice-My School program is life-changing for students who participated and provides a platform for students to take charge of their own education.
The program began in 2016 and is still operating as of 2017.