HOLY LAND – Following the opening of the school year, the media office of the Latin Patriarchate interviewed Father Iyad Twal, Director of the Latin Patriarchate Schools in Palestine and Israel. He met us in the context of this opening and the direction to be given to this new school year.
Father Iyad, the schools of the Patriarchate, of which you are the director in Palestine and Israel, took place recently. Can you tell us in what context it occurred?
To approach this new year, we began working at the end of the previous year. We conducted a survey by distributing a questionnaire by which we gathered information on administrative, financial and educational aspects of each school. The results vary and depend on the characteristics of each of them but all share the same communication challenges either with parents or the ministries of higher education in Palestine and Israel.
Preparations also included a workshop where the survey results were reviewed and interpreted by a team of professionals including principals, administrative assistants, secretaries and social workers. In terms of buildings, we conducted yearly renovations and maintenance. We also refurbished the Beit Sahour kindergarten. Additionally, we made some changes within school teaching staffs.
Financially, our main funding comes from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Order of the Holy Sepulcher. However, we have implemented a new financial policy to collect tuition fees that suits both parents and the Patriarchate. Besides, we try to create new exchange and twinning programs to support the entire sector: students, workers and teachers.
What about Christian schools in Israel?
We managed to receive a good portion of the funds previously agreed upon with the Israeli government, and they accepted to complete the previously contracted debt.
Each year calls for new goals and new challenges. What are those of the 2017-2018 year?
For our schools in Palestine, we created a support program for schools on education and academic issues through regular workshops set up by a person in charge of these issues. We also completed the new Christian education programs. After the agreement with the Palestinian Ministry of Education, several committees have been formed under the supervision of the General Secretariat of Christian Schools. The catechism textbook, addressed to all Christians, covers the entire CP program to the First.
Regarding the Tawjihi textbook (IGCSEs, SATs), which is one of the challenges we face, the question is whether or not a catechetical test will be introduced for the baccalaureate. On the one hand, some spiritual leaders have expressed interest to include such a test and thus give it some visibility and strengthen relations with the Ministry. A test of this type for Muslims and Christians could be considered by the Ministry. On the other hand, some people fear that this instruction loses its spiritual depth, reducing it to a single subject. So far, there is still no clear decision on the issue. We expect the bishops and Church leaders to decide whether or not the establishment of such a test.
The third challenge is to improve cooperation between the Patriarchal schools and other Christian schools. Because of the social evolution of our life and awareness of the importance of cooperation between us, the schools of the Latin Patriarchate led an initiative to unite all Christian schools under the aegis of the General Secretariat of Christian Schools. This project has proven very difficult to achieve because of ecclesiastical, administrative and financial differences of the various schools. Nevertheless, we have a common purpose to work together to serve the Christian community.
You took your new position as Director one year ago. What was your experience this past year? From this point, what are your concerns and your hopes?
This first year was a rich experience for me. I assumed my duties in a way that I never expected. I spent all last year visiting and discovering, little by little, the reality around me. My main task was to keep people’s trust in our institutions despite the changes, as well as our responsibility to the large number of employees, students and parents. I consider this responsibility as a great mission of the Church, and I put my faith and trust in all administrative staff, teachers and parish priests staff.
The Patriarchate Schools receive good support from abroad through The Barnabé Network and The Hope Program. Does the year ahead include such exchanges and meetings?
The history of our schools recognizes the presence of open communication with other institutions that share our goal for the Christian presence in the Holy Land. We have already implemented a number of productive programs in some schools – The Hope Program and The Barnabé Network – with various parishes and churches with the aim of developing them. We also have training programs for French teachers in collaboration with the Consulate General of France and The Barnabé Network, as well as training and workshops for English teachers. Each program was conducted on the basis of our strategic vision for our schools. Each workshop has been studied and implemented based on the reality in which we live. We adapt only those experiments that match our local criteria to ensure success.
Are there monitoring programs with students after graduation?
It’s a great idea, and we hope to develop it to maintain the link with them. However, it takes a lot of time and effort because of the large number of graduates each year. Despite this, the relationship between schools and parishes being very strong, close communication between them and the students could be maintained because most of them have remained in the same city or in the same parish. As such, we meet regularly in various events.
Interview by Cécile Klos