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Bard College and Al Quds University Create New Initiatives to Improve Palestinian Education System

Partnership Establishes Honors College, MAT Program, and Model School&

Mark Primoff

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. — Bard College and Al-Quds University have joined in a groundbreaking collaboration to create new programs designed to improve the Palestinian education system. Together, Bard and Al-Quds will establish three new programs, each tackling a separate but related element of the education process: The Honors College for Liberal Arts and Sciences; the Master of Arts in Teaching Program; and the Model School, covering grades 5 through 12. The initiative, put into motion with the recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding by Bard College President Leon Botstein and Al-Quds University President Sari Nusseibeh, is on track to open in phases over the course of 2009-2010.  

“The cooperative program between Bard College and Al-Quds University is a landmark event. It represents the first dual-degree collaboration between a Palestinian university and an American institution of higher education,” said Leon Botstein. “If the prospects for peace in the Middle East are to improve, efforts at cooperation and exchange in the areas of education and culture must be increased, particularly between institutions in the civil societies.” Botstein further noted, “the prospect for peace and cooperation can only be enhanced by educational and humanistic collaboration of this kind. The Al-Quds–Bard relationship will strengthen Al-Quds’s liberal arts program, set new standards for teacher training, and provide a new model for secondary education under the Palestinian Authority. The relationship will also deepen understanding among American students of the languages, cultures, politics, and peoples of the Middle East, and will enhance understanding of the United States there. If peace and prosperity are to come to Israelis and Palestinians, language must replace violence as the instrument of politics. For that to happen, strengthening educational opportunity is an imperative that demands assistance from institutions and individuals in North America and Europe. Bard is pleased to be in the forefront of this effort.”

Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al-Quds University, said, "I believe this partnership will create a qualitative leap in Palestinian higher education. We will work hand in hand not only at putting together a liberal arts program that will be viewed as a model of excellence at the college level; equally significantly, we will at the same time try to reach out to the school system, thus trying to influence our national educational philosophy even at the preparatory level. My belief is that the worthiest kind of education one could provide is the worthiest of such an investment. It is precisely through the kind of education which can make us better human beings that we can achieve a state of mutual respect, concern for each other, and a just peace." 

Partnership Framework

Through this new partnership, formalized in a Memorandum of Understanding signed in August 2008 and now preparing for a fall 2009 opening, Al-Quds and Bard are jointly establishing an integrated program comprising three major initiatives: the Honors College for Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Master of Arts in Teaching Program, and the Model School.

The Al-Quds Bard Honors College for Liberal Arts and Sciences will offer a four-year interdisciplinary curriculum that creatively combines the best traditions of the Palestinian and U.S. education systems, and draws on progressive trends in contemporary education. Graduates will receive dual B.A. degrees from Al-Quds University and Bard College. The Al-Quds Bard Honors College will have student-centered educational techniques and a curriculum that permits flexibility and student choice. The curriculum will emphasize the value and excellence of the social sciences and humanities as well as the natural sciences—and their interconnection. It will promote active learning, independent thinking, critical inquiry, and the free exchange of ideas.

Students will be recruited from all types of schools, within Palestine and abroad. Criteria for admission will not be based solely on test results, but will include a personal interview and an evaluation of secondary school results. The curriculum will adopt key features of the Bard curriculum: a prematriculation program in Language and Thinking, First-Year Seminar, a self-reflective evaluation (“Moderation”) as a prerequisite for promotion into the Upper College, and the requirement that all students produce a Senior Project (the equivalent of an honors thesis). The majority of courses will be taught in English, and faculty members will emphasize oral and written expression along with mastery of the material.

As an international educational institution of an innovative kind, The Honors College will integrate international faculty, including recent Palestinian Ph.D.s who have trained abroad. The Honors College is scheduled to open in the fall of 2009 with 50-60 students and will eventually enroll approximately 400 students.

The Al-Quds Bard Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) Program will grant dual master’s degrees from Al-Quds and Bard. The MAT program will offer a new model of postgraduate teacher training in the region, integrating graduate-level study in an academic discipline and key areas in education with ongoing work as a teacher or apprentice in a classroom setting. This intensive cycle of study culminates in a research project and written thesis in the discipline as well as a classroom research project that emphasizes teaching as a clinical profession. 

In its first year, the MAT program will enroll in-service teachers from a selected group of schools in the region. These teachers will be released to half-time teaching loads during their first year of studies, allowing them the time to balance study with the work of teaching while they use their own classrooms as sites for applying their learning to the development of student understanding and achievement. These teachers will complete research projects in education and their respective disciplines in their second and final year of the program, as they become mentors to pre-service teachers who will join the program in 2010. By beginning the MAT program with in-service teachers, Al-Quds and Bard are able to address classroom needs immediately, helping a critical mass of teachers in six to eight “pioneer schools” provide educational leadership while they develop their capacity for effective mentoring of pre-service teachers in the years ahead.

The MAT program, which is designed to prepare teachers in grades 5 through 12, is currently configured as a two-year program. It allows new teachers to enter the classroom in their second year of studies as they complete final research projects in both an academic discipline and in education, while also supporting existing teachers seeking to advance their education in the context of their own classroom practice. 

The MAT Program responds to a call by the Palestinian Minister of Education and Higher Education to improve teacher education, and builds on Bard’s extensive experience in promoting positive changes in public education. The MAT program will be launched in 2009 with approximately 40 students. Initially, it will offer courses in five disciplinary areas: English language and literature, Arabic studies, mathematics, biology, and general science. It will be integrally linked to both The Honors College, which will provide subject expertise and faculty support, and to the Model School. 

The primary mission of the Al-Quds Bard Model School will be to support the improvement of Palestinian secondary education. At the same time, it will serve as a laboratory for the MAT program. Its curriculum will be developed with two goals in view: first, to foster styles of teaching and learning that promote greater independence in thinking and more powerful oral and written self-expression, rather than rote learning and memorization; and second, to maintain or exceed student performance on the matriculation examination, the Tawjihi. The Model School, which will eventually include grades 5 through 12, is scheduled to open in the fall of 2010, beginning with grades 9-12.

To assure a broader impact for the Model School, and to help tie the MAT program into the current education system, Al-Quds and Bard will select a group of approximately six to eight existing high schools that will serve as “pioneer schools” working in conjunction with the MAT program and The Model School. Potential pioneer schools are being identified now and will be chosen by a competitive process. These schools will provide mentor teachers as the first cohort of MAT students and will become the site of apprenticeships for future MAT students who enroll in the program as pre-service teachers. In exchange, the Al-Quds-Bard partnership will offer continuing professional development for teachers at the partner schools, access to technology and various instructional resources, and opportunities to collaborate with Al-Quds faculty.

Context, Objectives, and Project Synergy

Education is more specialized in Palestinian secondary schools and universities than in the United States. Starting in the 10th grade, Palestinian schools stream their most gifted and talented students into the sciences, while the most desired and honored specialties at the tertiary level are medicine, science, and technical fields, to the detriment of the humanities and social sciences. Furthermore, the Palestinian educational system relies heavily on rote learning, culminating in the Tawjihi examination, which is required for university entrance.

To educate future leaders, it is necessary to equip students with a broad general education, a critical turn of mind, and opportunities to achieve excellence in the social sciences and humanities as well as the natural sciences. Achieving this goal will require changes at every educational level. In order to assure that the Al-Quds – Bard College partnership has a systemic impact and benefits Palestinian education as a whole, the partners are cooperating with the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education, NGOs, and other expert organizations in the region.

Al-Quds and Bard will share responsibility for curricular development, faculty training, recruitment, and governance through the creation of joint committees of faculty and administrators. This involves frequent exchange visits—to date there have been four exchanges, including two in each direction--as well as the use of advanced technology. A distinguished international board of governors will be established to provide guidance, connections, and support.

Bard College has received partial funding for the project in the form of an initial commitment of $1.5 million from the Open Society Institute. The grant must be matched and significant funds raised for needs including faculty and staff salaries, library resources, and student scholarships.

Why Al-Quds University?

Al-Quds has been a pioneer in the past 10 years within Palestine in working toward the introduction of educational approaches that will be fully realized through its new partnership with Bard. The University’s strategic goals include the development in its students of a mindset that is creative, cooperative, and multicultural. It is an innovator in educational cooperation both within Palestine and with U.S. and international institutions. It has created imaginative math and science museums and a summer school that draw many students from East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

In research, Al-Quds seeks to balance purely scholarly activities with a strong interactive role in society, by means of its practically oriented degree programs including education, medicine, nursing, law, dentistry, social work, computer and IT know-how, and food-processing. Al-Quds students carry out practical work in industry, and the University sponsors research in areas that include public health, social science, the environment, and the agro-chemical industry, among others. Its outreach programs and institutes include a community service center, a continuing education program, and a television station. In all of these ways, the University seeks to maintain its feet firmly on the ground, in terms both of how it "listens" to society and how it influences it. Thus Al-Quds is a logical and committed partner in the new endeavors it is delighted to be undertaking together with Bard College.

Why Bard College?

Bard is one of the most prominent U.S. institutions of higher education in its commitment to democratizing education at the secondary and post secondary levels, and internationally. Its successful partnerships in “countries in transition,” including Russia (with Saint Petersburg State University) and South Africa (with the University of the Witwatersrand), have given Bard unique and invaluable experience in the creation of international dual degree programs. Bard’s approach to globalization is based on the principles of mutuality and equality—one reason, no doubt, for their success. Within the U.S., Bard has established two highly successful, innovative public high schools in New York City, and has launched innovative graduate programs, among them its MAT program. Bard’s MAT program has been working with a cluster of high schools in the Bronx, and is establishing an affiliated MAT program and model high school in California’s Central Valley. Bard’s extensive experience in promoting the liberal arts and its track record of innovation in education at all levels will prove particularly well suited to this extraordinary collaboration.

Visit the Al-Quds Bard website:

To view the New York Times article on this topic, go to:


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This event was last updated on 02-18-2009