When Intisar Al-Bdour was appointed principal of Amnah Bint Wahab Mixed Elementary School in Shoubak, Ma’an, in 2015, she eagerly embarked on an exciting journey.
Pursuing new and innovative ideas, Intisar seeks to empower female students with scientific, analytical and critical thinking skills.
Intisar, 39, has worked at a variety of schools in Shoubak for over the past 11 years. She believes in the value of universal education, and takes it upon herself to challenge stereotypes while limiting the influence of social traditions in education. Intisar has encouraged families to let their daughters complete elementary school and further pursue their education away from their village of Faisaliyah.
Intisar feels that once female students are well-educated, they can create change in their communities. “I am pretty sure they will go back to their village with their bachelor degrees and their motivation spreading from themselves to their families”.
Intisar has been working hard to positively influence female students’ academic achievement as well as their commitment to education.
Many girls did not go to school, or they dropped out because their families are struggling financially while other families are still subscribing to social customs and traditions that dismiss the importance of girls’ education.
As compared with previous years, a greater number of female students are pursuing their high-school education in different schools in Shoubak.
When the Ministry of Education contacted Intisar asking her to nominate a school where a Media and Information Literacy (MIL) club could be established, she seized the opportunity to suggest Amnah Bint Wahab School.
Intisar attended the teacher and principal training in Amman, delivered by UNESCO in partnership with Media Diversity Institute (MDI) and the Jordanian Media Institute (JMI). The training, a part of the EU-funded “Youth Empowerment” project, helped teachers develop their understanding of MIL and learn about adopting interactive teaching methods for their schools. Furthermore, the training empowered them with critical thinking skills and ways to analyze hate speech and misinformation on social media platforms.
When the training concluded, Intisar went back to the school anticipating challenges due to the limited resources at her disposal.
Classrooms were overcrowded, the school was understaffed and a host of societal and cultural challenges presented each day. Despite this, Intisar refused to give up.
Using a curtain as a partition, Intisar created a new classroom by dividing an existing one into two. In this new room, they started the MIL club in a space where female students could enjoy their privacy within an interactive setting for the classes.
The MIL Club aims to raise awareness among students about the use of technology and the internet to raise an informed generation, with a solid understanding of how to access, use and produce information and media content.
However, Intisar had more challenges to overcome. For one of the MIL classes, students needed mobile phones and social media accounts to be able to access the internet and analyze media and information on such platforms. How could she transfer the knowledge she had gained during the training to the students if their parents refused to let them have smart phones?
I didn’t know how to tell the students to bring their phones to school, or how to convince their parents to let them create personal accounts on Facebook or Whatsapp
The first step to handling the parental resistance was to invite mothers to a session. Using simple language, Intisar explained to mothers why MIL skills are important, demonstrating how critical it is to raise awareness about verified news sources, and confront cyber bullying that students could be exposed to.
After convincing the parents, the first MIL club sessions were successfully convened weekly. A total of 20 students from grades 7-10 attended the class, which Intisar taught herself.
During these sessions, female students discuss with Intisar ways to analyze news, verify sources, and detect fake photos and videos shared on social media. This, in turn helps students to maximize and practice their critical thinking skills as they develop media content.
Intisar has recently moved to run a new school in Shoubak but is still leading the MIL club at Amnah Bint Wahab School because she believes strongly in the impact of the club. “The students now clearly understand their right to express their opinions, and they have greater awareness of their right to access information from all sources”.