Chapter 5


Marianne Heiberg

Since 1948 and the first mass dislocation of Arabs from the former Mandated Palestine, Palestinians have placed a special emphasis on the value of education. Education is seen as a durable, but moveable asset that can be used in whatever circumstances a person eventually finds him or herself in, in order to gain social standing and economic well-being. Especially for the dispossessed sectors of the population, education is prized as the major avenue to a better income and enhanced status.

Although Palestinians assign uncommon value to the education of children generally, parents still place the greatest emphasis on the education of sons both as a source of family pride and identity and as an investment in economic security later on1. Advanced education for women continues to meet a certain resistance. Many families fear that attendance at mixed institutions of advanced education can lead women into situations which potentially reflect poorly on family honour. More importantly, the traditional expectation of women is that their ultimate fulfilment comes through marriage and children, not through educational and professional achievement.2 Moreover, the economic rewards gleaned through education will become the property of the daughter's husband and thus will not function as a return on investment for her family. Among many Palestinians, advanced education for women is often viewed as an impediment to marriage. It is the roles obtainable through marriage, rather than the opportunities opened by education, that primarily define a woman's place in Palestinian society.

A major effect of the educational process is that customary knowledge and norms come under challenge by exposure to attitudes, events and experiences which originate outside the local community. Put in other words, education makes the boundaries of local communities increasingly porous and the hold of traditional local elites more tenuous. Those individuals who have had most exposure through education to the world outside local boundaries also tend to become channels for funnelling new ideas and social attitudes back into the local community. They tend to become agents for a type of change that often challenges and redefines local assumptions and practice.

Frequently, the educational process not only produces change and mobility but also an increased intellectual tolerance. A comprehensive educational system which ensures high educational attainment for the vast majority of individuals builds its own intellectual checks and balances against the possible dominance of small, intransigent intellectual minorities. Attempts to impose ideological dogma tend to be confronted by the countervailing force of an educated population that acts as discriminating consumers in an international super market filled with competing dogmas, ideologies and ideas. The broadened and more informed range of intellectual discourse produced by such a system of quality mass education ensures that most ideas, conventions and intellectual assumptions have to withstand the scrutiny of constant questioning and debate.


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