Scholasticide in Gaza
One aspect of Israel’s genocidal attack on Gaza that has been largely overlooked is the systematic attempts to annihilate the education system. Over the past weeks, schools and colleges across Gaza have been attacked, and even the Ministry of Education was bombed.
Ameera Ahmad, writing in The Guardian of 10 January, notes: “On only the second and third day of air attacks last week, Israeli planes wreaked severe damage in direct strikes on Gaza’s Islamic University. The main buildings were devastated, destroying administrative records, and, of course, ending studies.”
Ahmad continues: “The Palestinians are among the most thoroughly educated people in the world. For decades, Palestinian society – both at home in the West Bank and Gaza, and scattered in the diaspora – has put a singular emphasis on learning. After the expulsions of 1948 and after the 1967 occupation, waves of refugees created an influential Palestinian intelligentsia and a marked presence in the disciplines of medicine and engineering across the Arab world, Europe and the Americas.”
It is clear that Israel sees Palestinian education as a tremendous threat. Karma Nabulsi, an Oxford academic and a former PLO representative, writes: “Now in Gaza we see the policy more clearly than ever – this ‘scholasticide’. The Israelis know nothing about who we really are, while we study and study them. But deep down they know how important education is to the Palestinian tradition and the Palestinian revolution. They cannot abide it and have to destroy it.” (Ibid)
Of course, Israel’s attempts will not succeed. If Palestinians have nurtured their tradition of learning through 60 years of colonisation, oppression, poverty and diaspora, it is not something that can be broken by the destruction of a few buildings.
May the Palestinians’ engineering skills be used to construct better and better rockets!
Student occupation at SOAS
On 13 January, students at the School of Oriental and African Studies (part of the University of London) occupied SOAS’s Brunei Gallery Suite. One of the protestors, Ian Drummond, reported:
“This room, and the entire Brunei building it is in, is subcontracted to the company Sodexo, which also provides catering for the US army at Abu Ghraib prison … and runs brutal immigration detention centres in Britain. The company charges £1,000 a night for the Suite, permanently pricing out the Student Union and student societies, but had given the space for free to an exhibition sponsored by the Ministry of Defence, aimed at schoolchildren, on ethnic minorities in the British Armed Forces from colonial times to the present …
“After locking ourselves in the room we wrote a statement, put placards in the windows and slept overnight in the room. The following day more students joined the occupation through the windows and came and went throughout the day. We were covered by al Jazeera and other news agencies …
“There were negotiations with the school throughout the day and eventually a deal was reached which amounted to an overwhelming victory. In return for the students agreeing to unlock the doors and cease the occupation, we would be allowed to use the space, previously denied to us, for the rest of the week, to hold events to raise awareness of and show solidarity with Gaza. The MoD would be allowed in the room for only one purpose: to remove their exhibition forthwith. No student who took part in the occupation is to suffer any consequences, the school is to open negotiations with Sodexo to secure times for students to use the space, and any future military presence on campus must be agreed with the Student Union.” (Socialist Unity blog, www.socialistunity.com)
In a student movement long dominated by Labour ‘left’ cronies, it is refreshing to see actions of this type taking place.
Schools ‘to have their own police officer’
The government has announced plans to increase the number of ‘Safer School Partnerships’ (SSPs), which see a police officer based in a school or overseeing a group of schools. It is claimed that the SSPs are “proving effective in improving behaviour and attendance”. (‘Schools “to have their own police officer”’, Telegraph, 2 January 2009)
The increasing involvement of the police in Britain’s schools should be actively resisted. Behind the home secretary’s honeyed words about offering children “protection from crime” is an agenda of increased state control over working-class communities.
Demise of language GCSEs
Recent figures for state secondary schools (not including selective schools) show that fewer than one in 10 pupils was awarded a top grade A* to C grade GCSE pass in a language last year.
“Of the 62 schools where all pupils received an A* to C, 58 are independent schools and four are selective grammar schools. The figures underline what language-teaching specialists have been claiming for years – that language teaching is becoming the preserve of the affluent middle classes and is dying a death in state schools following the government’s decision four years ago to make the subject voluntary for 14 to 16-year-olds.” (‘Class divide opens up in teaching of languages’, The Independent, 16 January 2009)
As a result of the government’s arbitrary targets for GCSE results, pupils in poor-performing schools are coming under pressure to opt for easier subjects that they are more likely to achieve high grades in; language GCSEs are generally considered to be relatively difficult.
This decline is bad luck for the working class, as there is a massive body of evidence showing that learning languages has significant cognitive and academic benefits.
Unionists vow to block axing of 11-plus
An interesting struggle is currently taking place within the power-sharing government in northern Ireland, with Sinn Féin’s Caitriona Ruane, the education minister, intent on abolishing the 11-plus exam. The phasing out of the 11-plus started when Martin McGuinness was education minister, on the perfectly correct grounds that it gave rise to “enhanced educational inequality and disadvantage”. (www.sinnfeinonline.com)
The unionists are bitterly opposed to the abolition of the 11-plus, and have vowed to sabotage any attempt to get rid of it. As McGuinness commented in October 2006: “Many people find the DUP support for the 11-plus ironic given the fact that the system of academic selection at 11 impacts most within unionist working-class areas like the Shankill, where only 1 percent of the population move onto grammar schools and the rest are branded as failures.” (Quoted on ibid)
This is but one of many examples where Sinn Féin is pursuing progressive policies for northern Ireland that are met with intransigence and reaction from the unionists.
As reported previously, the government is threatening to convert schools to city academies if they fail to meet the national target of getting 30 percent of pupils to obtain five A* to C grade passes at GCSE, including maths and English.
This policy was left looking rather ridiculous when figures revealed in January 2009 showed that, on average, just 29.7 percent of pupils at existing city academies reach this target (compared to a national average of 47.6 percent, itself pitifully low).