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Education in Occupied Palestine

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Education in Occupied Palestine
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Education in Occupied PalestineA 2007 UNESCO/Save the Children UK report titled, "Fragmented foundations: education and chronic crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory" addressed issues "in emergency and reconstruction situations, as well as in chronic conflict." It explained that in 1994, the Palestinian Authority established the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MoEHE) with formal responsibility for the system, including planning, budgeting and coordination throughout the Territories.

Through at least 2007, it administered about three fourths of OPT schools, handled two-thirds of its students, and, as able, requires 10 years of basic education, two additional non-compulsory ones, then higher education for those qualified. See below.

UNWRA runs 13% of schools for 24% of the students, the private sector another 11% of schools and 6% of students as of 2006, according to World Bank figures. Israel maintains authority in East Jerusalem although MoEHE supports a number of its schools.

In the 1990s, school enrollment increased substantially. A priority was placed on new construction and rehabilitation, and efforts toward greater inclusiveness was stressed, especially for girls and children with disabilities. Technical, vocational, and early childhood education were also addressed, as well as a curriculum reflecting Palestinian history and heritage, culminating the the final year Tawjihi (university entrance) exam that assesses student readiness for higher education as well as their qualifications in certain fields.

An education system depends, of course on the quality and number of good teachers, the report saying that under the PA, "teacher training has been relatively piecemeal, with no concrete standards or coordination mechanisms for higher education institutions engaged in teacher training." A number of teacher strikes earlier also took its toll.

The second Intifada especially impacted education, the result of Israel's harsh response and its human and structural toll. Earlier momentum was lost. As a result, educational access and quality suffered, and the more repressive Israel becomes, the more adaptive MoEHE had to be to function under conditions of chronic instability, conflict and crisis.

Throughout decades of occupation and dispossession, education has been a bedrock of survival, for youths and the nation. Yet as long as occupation continues in a conflict-plagued environment, normal OPT functions will be severely impeded, including for education. The report drew conclusions but no solutions or condemnation of Israeli practices.

Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU) on Palestinian Education

IMEU asked "What kind of education do Palestinian children receive," then gave a capsule account of its state, explaining that students at all levels comprise over one-third of the OPT population. In addition:

  • among the 15 - 24 year olds, literacy is 98.2%, and overall adult literacy is 91.1% - both figures much higher than in America, the National Right to Read Foundation reporting in September 2007 that:
  • 42 million American adults can't read at all;
  • 50 million read at a fourth or fifth grade level;
  • each year, over two million adults swell the illiteracy ranks; and
  • 20% of high school seniors are functionally illiterate at graduation.

In addition, America ranks low in math and computer skills, and given an agenda to privatize public education, these numbers will grow because millions of kids won't be educated - what the Bush administration called reform and Obama's "Race to the Top" will continue.

Education Under Occupation

OPT schools face numerous obstacles under occupation. Israel ordered many West Bank ones closed, while checkpoints, free movement restrictions, curfews, and other civil liberty violations impede access to classes as well as a conducive learning environment in them.

Since September 2000 (the onset of the second Intifada), hundreds of students and dozens of teachers were killed, many more injured, and over 2,500 others arrested. In addition, Israeli shelling destroyed hundreds of schools and damaged dozens more. More on that below.

Gaza Under Siege

Over half the population is under age 18. Pre-Operation Cast Lead, over 640 schools operated - 383 government ones, 221 by UNRWA, and 36 private schools for a student population of over 440,000. Under siege, however, university and post-graduate students are impeded from studying abroad, some having to forgo scholarship grants as a result. From July - September 2008, 70 students got exit permission through Egypt, while hundreds of others were denied, the result of Israel's diplomatic escort requirement most can't get and some who do are still rebuffed.

Each year, over 1,000 Gazan students apply abroad to study, yet no official body or channel handles their requests or ability to exit so most of them can't go even if accepted.

Gaza overcrowding was a problem pre-conflict, forcing most government and UNWRA schools to use a shift system for the growing student population. Under siege and post-conflict, construction of new schools is impossible and repairing damaged ones challenging at best with basic materials unavailable or allowed in only in token amounts.

In April 2010, "confidential information" supplied by international groups listed items Israel permits. Among less than seven dozen are wheat, cooking oil, dates, chickpeas, rice, beans, lentils, some fruit, frozen vegetables, canned meat, frozen meat and fish, cinnamon, soap, detergent, toothpaste, toothbrushes, coffee and tea, combs, and potatoes.

All of these are in restricted amounts that can be changed or cut off arbitrarily any time for any reason or none at all.

Prohibited items include common ones like jam, vinegar, chocolate, fruit preserves, dried fruit, sage, fabric for clothing, fresh meat, writing implements, notebooks, heaters and newspapers.

Pre-siege, thousands of items were permitted (including essential construction materials), and Gazans could export produce and other goods. No longer with rare exceptions under a siege nearing its third anniversary, one so strict that it's strangling 1.5 million people, causing widespread malnutrition, serious illnesses and premature deaths - slow motion genocide affecting the entire Territory, and to a lesser degree the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

IMEU reported that in north Gaza, 9,000 students from 15 damaged schools were accommodated in 73 others, 4,000 in two schools alone. Also, 1,200 secondary school students in north Gaza government schools got no accommodation during the 2009-10 school year.

In government schools overall, attendance and performance suffered because of aging, destroyed and damaged infrastructure, overcrowding, and frequent military attacks. Even in the 2007-08 first semester, only 20% of 16,000 sixth graders were able to pass standardized exams in math, English, Arabic, and science because of hardships placed on study.

As a result of Operation Cast Lead, hundreds of schools and kindergartens were damaged, and another 18 destroyed (eight government, two private, and eight kindergartens). Six are in north Gaza, affecting 9,000 students, forced to relocate elsewhere if able.

In addition, six university buildings were destroyed and 16 damaged. According to the Education Ministry, 98 students were killed in north Gaza, another 454 injured and five teachers. For UNRWA schools, 86 children and three teachers were killed, another 402 students and 14 teachers injured. As a result, the entire Strip is traumatized, especially children. Those who lost family members need psycho-social support under very trying conditions, especially for the numbers in need.

Various other problems are endemic from basic nutrition, clean water, sanitation, medical care, shelter, essential goods and services, and the urgency to end the crushing siege and regular Israeli attacks, targeted killings, occasional incursions, and an occupation designed to inflict pain and suffering, besides its harm tp education.

Education in East Jerusalem

A September 2009 Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) report titled, "The Arab-Palestinian School System in East Jerusalem As the 2009-10 School Year Begins" highlights the plight of Palestinian children because Israel denies them free public education under administered system, although it's required under the Compulsory Education Law and a High Court of Justice (HCJ) ruling to provide it (in The Community Administration for the Development of Beit Hanina et al v. Jerusalem Municipality and Ministry of Education).

Even so, thousands of East Jerusalem's 95,000 school-age children can only partially register for regular schooling. Many others are entirely denied. As a result, in 2008, less than half the youth population attended municipal public schools. If able, parents send them to private or unofficial ones operated by private firms, churches, the Islamic Authority (Waqf), UN, or other Palestinian organizations.

Given widespread poverty, tuition is a problem, so thousands lose out altogether. Others able to enter public schools are forced into "unsuitable structures" that are small, overcrowded, unventilated, and lack support classes or playgrounds.

In fact, over half of East Jerusalem classrooms are sub-standard, over 200 of the nearly 1,400 total classified "unsuitable" by city authorities.

A core problem is overcrowding because of a shortage of public classrooms - for the 2007-08 school year estimated at around 1,000 from pre-school through secondary and special ed. By 2011, an estimated 1,500 shortfall is forecast.

Nonetheless, the HCJ ruled that the Education Ministry and Jerusalem municipality are obligated to construct schools for Palestinians as well as Jews. Yet despite repeated promises, they're not built, and no authority compels it. As a result, each year, public schools deny large numbers of children access for lack of space, a problem continuing to grow.



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