Originally published in the Education 3.0: The Magazine written and produced by the Society for Advancement of Education, Jerusalem and distributed at the SAE’s Education 3.0 Symposium in New York City on November 5, 2019.
“Sindiana”, the Arab Youth Village for Young Leadership, is an incubator for future leaders of Arab society. In this first youth village of its kind in Israel, learning is based on academic and social excellence and strengthening culture and identity.
“It’s time that we look after ourselves as a society and not only as individuals,” says Youth Village Principal Andera Biadse.
An educational framework for youth from Arab society integrating academic excellence with values and social excellence seemed like only a dream just a short time ago. To meet the need for such a framework, the Society for Advancement of Education (SAE), in partnership with social entrepreneurs and educators from the Arab community, Givat Haviva and the Menashe Regional Council, initiated the first Arab Youth Village of its kind in Israel – Sindiana (“the Oak” in Arabic).
As an educational framework promoting meaningful values, the Youth Village is training and developing a cadre of young leaders to impact their society. It provides a holistic setting that fosters each student’s personal development while expanding their abilities, developing educational and social talents and effective leadership skills. The framework is based on foundations of Arab culture, the students sense of belonging and exposure to the culture of the world beyond.
When the decision was made to establish Sindiana, one of the first names that came up for leadership was Andera Biadse, a groundbreaking educator who had successively broken through glass ceilings for women in her society. “For me, it was an opportunity to generate change in Arab society,” says Biadse. “One of our problems as a society is erosion of community solidarity, and, therefore, the central question was how do we create an educational system in which the students understand that they need to care for themselves, but at the same time for the society they come from? How do we teach the art of critical thinking, to break out of excepted educational patterns and to create something completely new, allowing graduates to stand out as individuals?”
Three guiding principles form Sindiana’s foundation: academic and social excellence; culture and identity; and leadership.
“This is an innovative world view, in the framework of which we place emphasis on developing students’ leadership ability, identity and exposure to difference cultures and uncompromising academic excellence,” explains Attorney Ali Haider, Director of Projects and Initiatives at SAE.
“To meet these goals, we built a new kind of program, different from what existed in the educational landscape, one that provides youth from the Arab society with an empowering educational framework at all levels.”
Arab youth from throughout the country and from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds come to Sindiana. According to Biadse, the connections among the diverse student body create a kind of melting pot and the opportunity to be exposed to different cultures, customs and world views. “The diversity upgrades the atmosphere in the Youth Village. It serves as a mirror of Arab society in Israel. To a certain extent, the diversity allows for social mobility within the Youth Village community.”
Making the Student an Integral Part of the Learning Process
“For many students who come to Sindiana, it takes time to get used to the innovative style of learning,” recounts Biadse. “Independent thinking, for example, is not part of what students were accustomed to previously. One of the students was not used to the fact that he can approach the teacher directly, to ask questions, to challenge what the teacher says. He shut down and in an individual meeting with the teacher, he said that he was afraid that if he stated his opinion, he would be punished. Today he is one of the leading students in the class, with quick and exceptional thinking that often challenges the teachers.” It was clear to Biadse from the beginning that the key to success lies in teaching methods that bring students out of a passive role and turn them into an integral part of the process.
“For example, when they are learning history, it’s not frontal learning. We ask the students what they would have done in the place of the person we are discussing, how could the decisions have been different, where do you see yourselves in another decade, and other questions that open up new directions of thinking to them.”
Critical thinking is encouraged in the school. “We encourage the students not to take anything as absolute fact but to cast doubt, to check, to examine from another perspective and to realize that there is always more than one possible answer. In this way, we believe that we can cause students to question them-selves whether what they are doing comes from their own desire or whether they are being led to follow what they have been told without checking.
“In this way they can stand up against the phenomena of violence in society and turn into leaders of the future generation in every area. I believe that it is time to look at students differently. Not only to teach mathematics but much more than that. I am always telling the teaching staff: let students dream, always ask them about their dreams. The more that students dream, the further they will get. The students are basically receiving tools that will serve them in realizing their dreams. The moment that students understand that they have the ability to do this, the moment that their horizons widen and their knowledge is great, I believe that many of them will go very far.”
To Develop Dreams and Work to Realize Them
The school has a variety of matriculation tracks and enrichment activities. Several times a year, meetings are held at the Youth Village with leaders from a range of fields, among them hi-tech workers, researchers, scientists, poets, community leaders, opinion leaders and more. Recently the Slovakian Ambassador to Israel came to visit the school and speak with students in the diplomacy track.
In addition, as part of the desire to work for advancement of Arab society as a whole, all students participate in activities to contribute to the community. “The students go out into the community, give workshops in special education schools, volunteer and give out presents at hospitals, teach lessons in elementary schools and each student gives back to the society. This is one of our most important principles.”
Parents’ days at the school are also run in a unique way. “At the beginning of the year, the teacher sits with each student and together they define personal objectives,” explains Biadse. “This way the teacher knows what challenges the student wants to accomplish, what the student wishes for themselves, what their ambitions are and more. Throughout the year, the teacher follows the progress toward reaching the goals and is constantly thinking together with the student about how they can improve, how their dreams can be developed and how the student can work toward realizing them.
“On the parents’ days, the student basically runs the meeting. Each student chooses the subjects to speak about, chooses to present their strengths and successes alongside the remaining challenges. From discussions I have had with parents, an impressive snapshot emerges. They report that their children do not want to miss a single day of learning, that they enjoy the knowledge, are curious and come to school with great desire to learn. We feel this in every lesson and it is simply a wonderful feeling.”
Despite the fascinating world views and the desire to bring good news of change to Arab society, students at Sindiana are still learning in temporary buildings. “We are currently planning the building of the permanent campus, the cost of which is estimated at 45 million ILS,” explains Haider. “Our aspiration at SAE is that the new campus will reflect the founding principles of Sindiana: it will have a modern design, but also express characteristics of Muslim Arab culture. A gallery, an auditorium and a range of tools that will serve the students and the entire community, are planned. We are seeking partners who will go on this journey with us to change the situation in Arab society for the better.”
Biadse’s vision looks forward to the distant future. “I want Sindiana to have a leading name in Arab society, I want our graduates to go forth and impact the society from all aspects, to lead it and be at the forefront of research, politics and industry. That is the vision of Sindiana, the oak tree that we planted three years ago, and the hope is that it will deepen its roots, bloom and prosper.”