Staying In The Path – The Bedouin community, education, and the impact of COVID-19

An interview with Aya Rimon

Head of “Netivim” Program at the Kaye Academic College of Education
The Coronavirus pandemic created challenges in all walks of life, including relationships. The field of education, and informal education, are currently being tested, and it seems that is often pushed outside what is considered a necessity.
But it is especially in the Bedouin community that the field of informal education is successful in motivating people and driving change through special out-of-the-box activities.
For the last four years, Aya Rimon, Head of “Netivim” program for educational and environmental leadership in the Negev, has been running the program aimed at the Bedouin community. Last year was especially challenging. Here is an interview we conducted with her discussing this matter.
Hi Aya! Thanks for talking with us!
Tell us something about yourself
Gladly! I think that it’s important that people become aware of the educational sphere in the Bedouin community 😊 My name is Aya. I live in Tal Shahar and I’m the head of the “Netivim” program in the last four years – a program for educational leadership in the Bedouin community at the Kaye Academic College of Education.
Cool! Could you elaborate on the program?
Sure, that’s why I’m here 😊 The “Netivim” program is a bachelor’s degree program at the Kaye Academic College in collaboration with the Institute for Democratic Education in Israel.
The program trains young Bedouins to become environment and geography teachers. As a matter of fact, this is the younger sister of “Shvilim” program. “Netivim” was established because during the facilitation of “Shvilim,” there was a need for an additional program with the same rational, fields, and vision.
OK, so why start a separate program?
The process is different because the target audience is different. In “Shvilim,” different communities study together – Bedouin and Jewish individuals who are already in the educational field. In “Netivim,” the program is designated only for Bedouin individuals from the south of Israel.
תכנית נתיבים מסאראת
So why was the division made?
That’s a great question! And the answer is – there is no division! In “Shvilim,” people still study together, but because of gaps in the employment experience and background of the participants, we have identified the need for an additional program. In “Netivim,” we work with young students fresh out of high school. We even had students who celebrated their 18th birthday in the program. They often enroll without any employment or educational experience, and without even knowing the term informal education.
Many of them sign up because they want to get a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate, without knowing what this really encompasses. “Shvilim” students are in a different status, since they are usually more well-rounded and mature, with prior work experience. Moreover, the communication skills and Hebrew fluency of the students who participate in “Netivim” are a challenge.
So, they discover their inner educator in the program?
Exactly. In the first year of the program, we deal with their educational identity and the learning experience, alongside working on a family history project. We combine immersive education, dialogue, and other features of informal education, and acquaint them with the educational field in depth.
Wow, so you actually help students “fall in love” with education?
Actually, we go on an extensive and meaningful journey with them. One can see how first year students show up with a “high school vibe,” being quite young, and graduate their fourth year at a much more mature level in the Bedouin community and the Israeli community. They then take the informal education field, which is considered to be in its infancy in the Bedouin community (developed in the previous decade) to a very good place.
It’s important to remember that most of them have no firsthand experience of informal education. This is really a new field in the Bedouin community so only as time goes by, we meet students who already had a small taste of it. In the program they acquaint themselves with the world of education, experience it firsthand, and help in developing it even further. We incorporate a lot of experiential learning, which includes plenty of activism and real-world learning experiences.
So, are you starting the informal education field from scratch in the Bedouin community?
Not exactly from scratch, but it’s a field that can still evolve, grow, and expand. As a matter of fact, we are assuming that wherever you are, you should be an educator who sees children as full partners in the process and see who they really are. This is also how we act as lecturers. We are not only lecturers, but also educators, both formal and informal.
Sounds inspiring and special! What does this look like in practice?
We incorporate a lot of formal and informal educational experiences in the program. Our experience model begins with noticing what already exists. First, we notice what is simply there, and then we start to initiate and add our own content and introduce what we think is missing and should be there. In informal education, we connect the students to the occupational world as early as in their second year. I.e., in their first hands-on year, they go to organizations working in the informal education field, participate in the activities, and get to know the world of various occupational possibilities.
And then, do they proceed to work where they had their hands-on experience?
In a lot of cases, they indeed continue working and moving up the ladder in the organizations where they started their hands-on experience. As far as their training is concerned, we find it important to mentor and accompany them closely, so at the end of their second year, they take part in activities that we facilitated in a program called “Netivim for Youth.” This is an informal education program that we initiated in cooperation with AJEEC-NISPED organization and schools, which is led by the pedagogical counsellors of “Netivim.” We want to see them return to those various organizations as alumni and facilitate professional educational work. To develop professionalism, we incorporate organized training plans, and the students put in a lot of effort in planning and development.
In the field of formal education, we also have a hands-on experience, based on the same approach. They start by engaging with an existing organization and do not introduce our agenda right off the bat. During their second year, the students are assigned to different schools and participate in what we call a traditional hands-on experience. In conjunction, they have assignments that we mentor, and the effort bar of assignments rises during the year. In the third year, we tell them “OK, now you take the lead.” The mentor-teacher is just a guide, you are the ones taking actions and deciding what to do and how. The main idea here is to offer them the opportunity to lead an entire process, start to finish.
Wow, that sounds pretty complicated, and the Coronavirus probably made it even more difficult.
Correct, and this is why we shifted to online learning! There is still a hands-on experience, but now it’s online… We started working this way last year when the health crisis started. It was challenging at first, but it has many advantages. It’s empowering to see what is possible… In normal times, without COVID-19, the students guide their pupils in project-based learning (PBL) and place-based education (PBE), and they produce content in the fields of environment, geography, globalization, and more! During the health crisis, we decided not to give up on the projects and to produce online content. The results were very surprising! There were a lot of pupils who usually don’t participate in lessons, but suddenly, in this type of learning, they found a way to express themselves. They participated in class and created videos, presentations, and amazing educational results! Even their teachers were amazed, and there were students who decided to create content in English in order to reach larger audiences! It was wonderful to see so many good things stemming from the health crisis. The projects were surprisingly good, and they were a pleasure to watch and experience!
Cool! So, it sounds that you did manage to work on projects despite COVID-19! And what about informal education?
The hands-on experience in the field of informal education was challenging… Because informal education was at a complete hiatus. We needed to come up with creative ways to facilitate activities. So, after some back and forth, we transformed the standard activity to a localized neighborhood activity instead of activities in central hubs.
What does that mean?
It means that instead a fixed group of 15 pupils under the guidance of two students, which is impossible nowadays, we transformed the activity to a localized activity in the neighborhood. There, every student guided 6 pupils who live in his or her neighborhood. The pedagogic mentoring is done remotely, but the actual activity facilitated by the students remains in person and the meetups took place inside the neighborhoods! The students met with the pupils on a weekly basis, and the content of the meetings is the same content we use in our hubs – environment, geography, and sustainability. There were even some students who chose to facilitate the activity in their own private home! They invited the children to their house, or to their uncle’s house two blocks away, and facilitated the educational activity there. It wasn’t easy from a logistical standpoint, because instead of two activity hubs, we now had 30-something hubs… So it was quite a challenge to mentor…
Well, that's very unique. And were there any advantages?
Of course. Here are the main advantages of this situation:
– The groups were smaller, and every student gets the opportunity to do more personal educational work.
– The larger geographic spread helped us reach more pupils! Suddenly, pupils who never took part in this type of activity joined the education circle. It’s incredible!
– Every student simply works where they live, which forges a great relationship with the community.
– The students work inside their own home, and their parents and family see them in a different light! Mothers and fathers suddenly see their children leading and facilitating activities in their own community, and it is very empowering.
It's so amazing that COVID-19 offered opportunities and not only crises!
Are there any special projects that were successful during this time?
Indeed, there are 😊 the third-year students’ projects were planned before COVID-19 but were carried out during the health crisis. It brought a lot of changes and adaption. One of our students worked on “learning gamification,” which is a combination of games and learning methods that provide the opportunity to learn by experience. She planned to work in a high school and to gamify the classes with one of the teachers. Then, COVID-19 arrived, and it was significantly harder to create virtual games. But anyway, they shifted to gamification by remote learning. There were such positive feedbacks to this process, that the teachers added our student to the teachers’ WhatsApp group, and she became their consultant on “how to attract more pupils to participate in remote learning.” Today she is a tenured teacher there. This student is serious and hardworking, and very professional in terms of lesson planning.
Awesome! Continuing on a positive note, we would be glad to know how you view the evolution of the program. What's your vision for this program in 5 years from now?
Our main goal is to influence the educational landscape in the Bedouin community, both in the formal and informal education. Our need is to familiarize them with this and to introduce professionalism, interpersonal connection, and activism. We are part of a program that is destined to be part of a great thing: social change. Together with additional organizations, youth organizations, all non-profit organizations that are involved in informal education in the south, The Israel Association of Community Centers, schools, FNS (field-nation-society), supervisors in informal education, teachers, we are all partners in this mission. I want to see our students succeed and fit in at their workplaces, organizations, and continue keeping their confidence and to not get easily discouraged. We are devoting a great deal of our time discussing how to fit in, but also how to keep one’s credo and succeed in leading and implementing change within the organization. This change is gradual, but also respectful to the tradition and what is currently there.
And was this something that you practiced before the program?
As a matter of fact, I did practice this before. This year, something interesting happened 😊 15 years ago I started a different program for social-environmental leadership for children and youth – an informal group in the south. This year, two students who graduated from that program joined “Netivim.” It was fulfilling to see how things converge, this is how we understand that we’re part of something greater: long term processes of social change. I would like to see our students as influential adults in the entire Bedouin community!
Wow, that’s some closure!
Thank you, Aya, for interviewing and cooperating with us!
You have inspired us and made us to want to participate in social change on a larger scale!
Learn more on
“Netivim” program

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