Ramallah, Sep 19 (AP/UNB) — As the teacher pointed to the large touch screen, her first-grade classroom came alive. With the click of a link, an animated character popped up on the screen, singing and dancing as it taught the children how to read.
The day's lesson was the Arabic letter "Raa," and the screen displayed cartoon pictures of objects that contain the letter — desert, chair and pomegranate — as the teacher asked the children to come up with other words. The students smiled and sang along.Just a few years ago, such scenes were unthinkable in most Palestinian classrooms. Like elsewhere in the Arab world, schools in the Palestinian territories have traditionally emphasized memorization and obedience over critical thinking and creativity.
With an eye to the future, some Palestinian educators now hope the use of technology and the arts will create new opportunities in a society that has produced large numbers of unemployed college graduates.
"The students don't need to memorize things. They need to understand first," said Ruba Dibas, the principal of the Ziad Abu Ein School in the West Bank city of Ramallah. "Then they need to express their understanding through writing, speaking, drawing, acting."
Ziad Abu Ein is one of 54 "smart teaching schools" introduced last year. This year, the number tripled. By 2020, all 1,800 public schools in the West Bank are to be part of the program.
Dibas said the goal is to eliminate testing from the classroom. Instead, she said students need to enjoy the learning process to absorb information.
On a recent day, her school was buzzing with activity.
In a fifth-grade classroom, each child had a tablet and the teacher guided them through an Arabic lesson, using her own tablet to give assignments. Third-grade students went to the smart board, playing a game to learn the multiplication table.
In other classes, students drew cartoons to learn the physics of how airplanes fly. An English class did a project about evaporation.
Four third-graders recently learned about self-esteem in a lesson called "learning by drama." They performed a short skit about a shy girl who discovers a passion for journalism and grows up to become a successful reporter.
Their teacher, Sawsan Abdat, said the children learned an important lesson that day — that they need to find what they are good at.
After initial skepticism from parents last year, enrollment at the school has nearly doubled. This year's first grade has nearly tripled to 43 students.
"I love the school," said Malak Samara, a 9-year-old fourth grader. "We learn and enjoy. We learn and play."
These techniques are a radical departure from a system in which generations of students were forced to memorize information and cram for exams under the stern watch of an authoritarian teacher who in some cases would beat them with a stick if they could not complete their work.
But with the unemployment rate for new college graduates hitting 56 percent, according to the Palestinian Statistics Bureau, officials realized that something had to change.
Education Minister Sabri Seidam also introduced vocational training in grades seven, eight and nine last year to meet the needs of the market.
"Society needs singers, carpenters, cleaners, athletes, sergeants," he said. "We can't just produce engineers and doctors."
Youth unemployment, particularly among university graduates, is a major problem across the Arab world. It was considered a driving force behind the Arab Spring revolutions that rocked the region in 2011.
Arab governments used to absorb new graduates, often in civil service jobs, but they can no longer afford to do that, in part because of the region's "youth bulge."
The private sector offers limited opportunities, leaving large numbers of young graduates unemployed throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
"There is no greater challenge facing the MENA region in its efforts to build a future based on inclusive growth than job creation," the International Monetary Fund said in a report early this year. It noted that 60 percent of the region's population is under 30, the world's second-youngest after sub-Saharan Africa.
"Pressures on the region's labor markets are rising. In the past five years, the region's working-age population increased by 50.2 million, and 27.6 million people joined the labor force. Yet employment increased by only 25.4 million," it said.
Others in the Mideast have tried to make similar changes. In Egypt, the largest Arab country, the Education Ministry this year is providing students with tablets, along with a new curriculum that enhances critical thinking.
The ministry said it is also trying to improve the level of instruction by increasing training and wages for teachers, building more classrooms and creating a more modern classroom through digital learning facilities. The government this year secured a $500 million loan from the World Bank to help fund the reforms.
For now, it appears too soon to say whether the reforms can make a difference.
The region's authoritarian governments might encourage education reforms as an economic necessity but could balk in the future at efforts to nurture a new generation versed in critical thinking. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, governments in the region have increasingly stifled expression.
Schools across the Arab world face other obstacles as well. A 2015 study by the U.N. culture and education agency UNESCO talked about chronic underfunding, a lack of qualified teachers and increased class sizes throughout the region.
Syrian schools have been devastated by a seven-year civil war, while many schools in neighboring Lebanon have been overwhelmed by Syrian refugees. U.S. cuts in funding to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees have jeopardized the school year for some 500,000 students, most of them in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And Israel's half-century occupation of the West Bank, along with a decade-long blockade over Gaza, continues to stifle the Palestinian economy.
"Education in the Arab world is in a very bad condition. The salaries of teachers are very poor, the classes are overcrowded, and schools lack the essential infrastructure," said Saeda Affouneh, director of the E-Learning Center at al-Najah University in the West Bank.
She praised the changes taking place in Palestinian schools.
"But this new system faces real challenges in the Palestinian schools," she warned. "They need to train the teachers and to provide the proper resources."
Cairo, Sept 16 (AP/UNB) — Egypt says archaeologists have discovered a statue of a lion's body and a human head in the southern city of Aswan.
The Antiquities Ministry says Sunday the sphinx made of sandstone was found in the Temple of Kom Ombo during work to protect the site from groundwater.
Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities says the statue probably dates back to the Ptolemaic time.
The Ptolemaic Dynasty ruled Egypt for some 300 years — from around 320 B.C. to about 30 B.C.
Egypt hopes such discoveries will spur tourism, partially driven by antiquities sightseeing, which was hit hard by political turmoil following the 2011 uprising.
Dhaka, Sept 16 (UNB) - The government has bought the historic Rose Garden mansion in Old Dhaka , the birthplace of Awami League, considering its archaeological values.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina received the registered deed of the historic house from the present owners at her official residence Ganobhaban on Sunday.
The government procured the palace built on 22 acres of land in Old Dhaka under the ‘Public Procurement Law’ at a cost of Tk 331.70 crore.
Sheikh Hasina handed over a cheque to the owners against the price of the historic house from where Awami League started its journey in 1949.
Besides, she handed over another registered deed for a one-storey building along with 20 kathas of land at Gulshan in the city to the owners of the Rose Garden as they purchased it from the government.
The Cabinet Committee on Public Purchase at a meeting on August 8 last with Finance Minister AMA Muhith in the chair approved a proposal to purchase the Rose Garden mansion.
Speaking on the occasion, the Prime Minister said the historic Rose Garden mansion will be turned into a museum depicting the history of Old Dhaka.
She said the palace has a historic value. “Awami League started its journey on June 23, 1949. Under the leadership of this party, Bangladesh achieved its independence in 1971,” she said.
Besides, such a historic establishment should not be ruined, Sheikh Hasina added.
She said the city museum will be shifted to the Rose Garden from the Nagar Bhaban.
The Prime Minister asked the authorities concerned to renovate the building keeping the original structure unchanged.
Later, the Prime Minister handed over the house to the Cultural Affairs Ministry at a token price of Tk 1,001. Cultural Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Noor received the deed of the house.
Situated on KM Das Lane in Tikatuli of Old Dhaka, the Rose Garden mansion was built in 1931 by Hrishikesh Das, a rich businessman.
Housing and Public Works Minister Engineer Mosharraf Hossain, PMO Secretary Sajjadul Hassan, Housing and Public Works Secretary Shahid Ullah Khandaker and Cultural Affairs Secretary Nasir Uddin Ahmed were, among others, present.
Denver, Sep 16 (AP/UNB) — Cyclists and hikers explored a newly opened wildlife refuge at the site of a former nuclear weapons plant in Colorado on Saturday, while a protester in a gas mask brought signs warning about the dangers of plutonium.
With no fanfare, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opened the gates of Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge on the perimeter of a government factory that made plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs for nearly four decades.
Spread across a rolling, wind-swept plateau 16 miles (26 kilometers) northwest of downtown Denver, the refuge is a rare oasis of tallgrass prairie, with bears, elk, falcons, songbirds and hundreds of other species. The refuge offers sweeping panoramas of the Rocky Mountain foothills and Denver's skyscrapers.
"You get these incredible views," said Jerry Jacka, who spent two hours mountain biking at the refuge Saturday.
Jacka said he was not worried about his safety, despite lawsuits and protests by people who argued the government has not tested the refuge thoroughly enough to make sure people are safe using it.
"I don't believe that they're covering up any sort of information about pollutants and radioactive elements and stuff in the soil," Jacka said.
The government built plutonium triggers at Rocky Flats from 1952 to 1989, a history marred by fires, leaks and spills. The plant was shut down after a criminal investigation into environmental violations.
The U.S. Energy Department, which oversaw the plant, said it found 62 pounds (28 kilograms) of plutonium stuck in exhaust ducts of buildings.
Rockwell International, the contractor then operating the plant, was fined $18.5 million after pleading guilty in 1992 to charges that included mishandling chemical and radioactive material.
The weapons complex covered 2 square miles (5 square kilometers) at the center of the site. It was cleaned up at a cost of $7 billion but remains off-limits to the public. The 8-square-mile (21-square-kilometer) buffer zone surrounding the manufacturing site was turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a refuge.
About 10 miles (16 kilometers) of trails are now open at the refuge. Visitors are told to stay on the paths and not wander the grasslands.
State and federal health officials say the site is safe, but some people worry that plutonium particles eluded the cleanup and could be sprinkled over the refuge, where hikers and cyclists could stir them up or track them home. At least seven Denver-area school districts have barred school-sanctioned field trips to refuge.
If inhaled, plutonium can lodge in lung tissue, where it can kill lung cells and cause scarring, which in turn can cause lung disease and cancer, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"You have a situation where you still have plutonium in the soil being disturbed by the wildlife and the weather," said Stephen Parlato, his voice muffled by the gas mask he wore at a refuge trailhead Saturday.
Parlato said the mask had a filter capable of blocking plutonium particles and that he wore it for protection, not for show.
"You even have school districts that have gone on the record to say they do not allow their students to come on trips here. This is an ongoing danger," he said.
Jon Simon, another cyclist who rode the refuge trails Saturday, said he doubted he would develop plutonium-related health problems in his lifetime, but worried that children might be vulnerable.
"I wouldn't want to walk my kid through here every day in the morning for our morning walk or something like that," he said. "But I'm old enough.... That's not what's going to get me."
The opening was in the works for months but was thrown into doubt Friday afternoon when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, said he wanted to wait for more information about safety.
An hour later, the Interior Department said a review was complete and the refuge would open.
Department spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort did not respond to an email seeking more information about the review.
Dhaka, Sept 15 (UNB) - A colorful festival titled ‘Japan Fest 2018’ was held in the city on Saturday for the first time after several years that showcased both traditional and contemporary Japanese culture as well as music.
The Embassy of Japan organised the festival at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy on Saturday evening where over 1,000 Bangladeshi people interested in Japan enjoyed the festival.
“Japan Fest 2018 was organised to bring Japanese culture for Bangladeshi people at hand to further enhance amicable relations between the two countries. This was the first time for me to experience so many Japanese cultures at once,” said Anika Begum who is majoring Japanese language at Dhaka University.
Apart from various Japanese cultural displays and workshops, three renowned Japanese musicians performed in the Japanese pop song and traditional music concert in the evening, bringing additional excitement to the audience.
The event was supported by Japanese and Bangladeshi organisations; Regent Airways, Ajinomoto, Grameen UNIQLO, Honda Bangladesh, Studio Padma, Japanese Commerce and Industry Association in Dhaka, Bangladeshi Ikebana Association, Bangladesh Bonsai Association, ICARUS and students of Department of Japanese Language & Culture as well as Department of Japanese Studies, Dhaka University, said the Japanese Embassy in Dhaka.
In 2022, the two friendly countries will celebrate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations. Japan and Bangladesh have established a long and friendly relation since 1972.
Japan will further strengthen the bilateral relations towards the anniversary, said the Embassy.