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In West Bank, corruption-busting teenagers shake up local government

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Civic education is an ambitious push in a school system struggling to meet the demands of a rapidly growing population. But proponents see it as crucial to transforming a school system that has been restricted – by tradition but also by political influence and a lack of resources – largely to rote learning.

More than 35,000 new students enter the Pal­es­tinian school system every year, burdening classrooms already packed with 30 to 40 pupils. Almost 1 in 4 teachers don't have a bachelor's degree, and some hold additional jobs to feed their families.

Even well-trained teachers face equipment shortages. Information technology instructor Islam Rada's high school has only one computer linked to the Internet – and it's in the principal's office.

Eighth-graders' scores on a math test administered internationally fell to 42nd out of 48 in 2007, just ahead of Botswana – a "terrifying" decline from 38th in 2003, says Mr. Aruri. But his primary aim is an overhaul of dogmatic practices that produce narrow-minded graduates more likely to follow than lead. "We need a revolution, really, in education," he says.

A need to instill self-government

To Aruri, it's a choice between instilling order in the rising generation or imposing it on every street corner – where flagrant disregard for traffic laws speaks to a deeper disrespect for the rule of law.

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank adds challenges by stirring anger in students, say many here.

"When the Israeli occupation goes into town and destroys ... then students imitate them in school, against each other," says parent Abdelwahab Abu Safat, also blaming violent Israeli settlers. "All of the behavior of settlers affects the behavior of students, who won't listen to principals."

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