Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Happy Day for Many, but a Sad one for Some

The Tawjihi socres are out. This is the exam that all high school seniors take. If you aren't used to this system, it may be hard to understand. The exams are given over a week or ten days - one subject/day. This score is the only one that counts. If you don't pass, you don't graduate from high school. If you don't do well, you don't get into a university. Choice of college major depends on this score. THIS IS A BIG DEAL!!

One of our team members shared the following article that captures some of the drama.

Palestinians fete school exam scores
The cell phone network collapsed under the load of frantic calls Tuesday, newspapers printed special editions and the streets reverberated with the boom of gunfire.

It wasn't another day of calamity in the West Bank, though.

It was an emotional response to the publication of the results of the "tawjihi," or high school final exams, with pass or fail determining who will be university-bound and who will be relegated to menial jobs.

Many Palestinians are obsessed with education as a ticket out of their embattled existence. They have one of the highest literacy rates in the Arab world and often seek work abroad for lack of opportunity at home.

The release of the scores is an annual gossip-filled ritual that gives no privacy to those who fail.
The names and scores of those who passed are published in newspaper supplements, posted on the Internet and read aloud on local radio stations. It's a national pastime to check the lists for who's included, and — more importantly — who is not.

Critics said there's too much learning by rote and that it's unfair to students and parents to put so much emphasis on a few tests; grades accumulated throughout high school are not counted toward graduation.

"The system puts huge pressure on students because it measures their accomplishments in one exam, which is unfair," said Walid Batrawi, a writer in the Al Ayyam daily. "I can't remember anything I studied for the tawjihi."

This year, there was another twist to the publication. The rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza released the scores on different days, in their ongoing wrangling over legitimacy. Hamas-ruled Gaza published its list last Thursday, while the moderate West Bank government released it Tuesday.

Education Minister Lamis al-Alami in the West Bank said she won't recognize the Gaza scores unless they are forwarded to her, which Hamas has refused to do since it considers the West Bank government illegal.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas fired the Hamas-led government and installed a new West Bank-based Cabinet after the Islamic militants seized Gaza by force in June. The fighting between Hamas and Fatah raged as students in Gaza took the exams, which began on June 11.
With the release of the West Bank results Tuesday, few cared about politics, though.
In the town of Jenin, hundreds of students gathered outside the local education department in the morning to get their results. Some adults fired guns in the air in celebration, while others carried trays of honey-drenched sweets on their heads, to pass around to bystanders on hearing good news.

In Ramallah's downtown Manara Square, students set off fireworks, drivers honked horns and vendors sold special newspaper supplements with the scores. Sana Abdullah, 17, bought one and found she'd gotten 72 points out of 100. "I feel bigger than the world. My joy is enormous," she said.

Across the West Bank, the Jawwal cell phone network and Internet service collapsed for more than half an hour under the volume of calls, with everyone talking about the scores. In Gaza, the Internet and cell phone networks were down for several hours after scores were released Thursday.

Tawjihi season is good business for newspapers and local TV and radio, which make extra money for congratulatory ads.

Neighboring Egypt and Jordan have a similar system of high school exams.
In Jordan, results were announced Saturday. Hundreds of students rushed into the streets of the capital, Amman, some in flashy convertibles. At night, camel-hair tents were pitched on main intersections in several upscale Amman districts, where tumultuous celebrations were held.

In the Palestinian territories, the passing score is 50 out of 100, although universities generally only consider applicants with more than 60 points. Many of those who didn't pass — more than 40 percent of nearly 80,000 test-takers this year — were holed up at home.
Mohammed Thabet, a student in the West Bank city of Nablus, failed three out of 10 subjects, including math and English, meaning he won't get a diploma. His parents had spent $250, or about half the average monthly salary, on private tutors.

"One thing that made me fail is that I didn't have money to buy cigarettes," Thabet said, adding that the Palestinian uprising, which erupted in 2000, also disrupted his studies. Thabet said he'd try to retake the three tests next year.

The percentage of those failing was slightly higher this year than last. Al-Alami, the education minister, noted that teachers had been on strike for the first two months of the school year and that students were for the first time tested on a new curriculum.

Girls, in general, do better than boys, she noted. In high schools with an emphasis on the humanities, which have more students than those in the scientific stream, the top 10 scorers were girls. Al-Alami said girls often study harder because they tend to go out less than boys, a result of conservative social norms.

In the Ammari refugee camp on the outskirts of Ramallah, Wala Abu Musallam's 92.9 score made her mother, Alia, cry with joy.

Alia Abu Musallam distributed sweets in the local mosque, and has already made plans for her daughter to go to law school, despite the tight family budget. "The joy of the tawjihi is even bigger for me than the joy of a wedding," the mother said.
Associated Press reporters Mohammed Ballas in Jenin, Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City and Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.
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