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Gaza's schoolchildren get first taste of interactive learning

A publishing company in the West Bank is introducing e-books and interactive learning to primary school students, which despite the power outages has been a success so far.
A teacher shows a Palestinian schoolgirl how to use a new laptop at a United Nations school in Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip April 29, 2010. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) launched a campaign to distribute some 200,000 laptops to UNRWA students in the Gaza Strip, an UNRWA official said. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS EDUCATION) - GM1E64T1L8C01

Despite the challenges caused by the ongoing electricity cuts, the education sector in the Gaza Strip is turning more toward interactive learning, mainly through e-books.

One of the companies that has started publishing e-books is Interactive Books and Active Learning (IBAL), which is based in the West Bank and has a team in Gaza. The company employs 43 educators, designers and programmers to develop interactive learning materials for primary school children. These e-books range from mathematics to Arabic language and contain more than 12,000 interactive exercises, Abdullah Mustafa, the company's general manager, said in an interview with the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation.

Maysa Muheisen, a Gaza-based English teacher and mother, told Al-Monitor that the e-books on mathematics and Islamic education are in demand, with the latter offering detailed explanations of the Quran that are useful in answering children's questions.

She said that learning the Arabic language has become easier with the e-books' interactive methods in grammar and vocabulary. “A [traditional] schoolbook does not provide a student with the necessary explanation to an incorrect answer. Who helps a child if the parents don’t know the answer either?” she said, adding that e-books provide good explanations and an interactive method that makes practicing through repetition easier.

In recent years, Palestinian students have been exposed increasingly to interactive learning methods. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East uses several interactive teaching projects in their curricula, and Rawafed, a private education website, offers interactive science education to third- and fourth-graders.

Nidaa Oweida, the mother of a student who uses e-books, told Al-Monitor, “The idea is good. The small children do not have to carry heavy bags [to school].”

Najwa al-Barbari, a mother whose child uses the IBAL method, told Al-Monitor that those behind the interactive books are trained in child psychology. She said that her daughter now eagerly waits for the limited electricity hours to use e-books and as a result is more eager to learn. Barbari noted that some of the interactive language e-books use music, which makes it easier for children to memorize. “When I wanted to help her to memorize a poem, I tried giving it a certain melody myself, but with the interactive books, poems are presented like songs. This makes it easy for students to memorize them,” she added.

Omar Musleh, the head of the IBAL team in the West Bank, told Al-Monitor that the use of e-books and interactive learning as part of the Palestinian education system would benefit the entire educational process and make it easier to develop the student’s capabilities. “Breaking with the didactic methodology by involving the student in the educational process and adding interactive activities to textbooks would achieve better results,” he said.

The idea of creating e-books occurred to Musleh four years ago, when he was teaching an information technology course to seventh-graders and realized that many students were not interested in the lessons. In 2014, he developed his first interactive textbook and started using the method in his computer science classes. He noted that the students enjoyed the lessons more and their grades improved.

He believed e-books could be developed for other subjects, and so the IBAL team started designing them. In 2017, IBAL offered the first e-books for grades 1-12. Musleh said that currently IBAL publishes more than 40 interactive textbooks in subjects that include Islamic education, Arabic and English languages, general sciences, mathematics and social sciences.

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