Brief Overview of the Evolution of the Palestinian Educational System

Limited mainly to primary education, an official educational system in historical Palestine was first instituted at the beginning of this century under the Ottoman Empire. Under the British Mandate Authority education facilities were expanded and endeavours were made, largely unsuccessful, to establish a system of compulsory education. Although possibilities for female education were enlarged, this initial expansion of educational facilities during the Mandate period was primarily of benefit to men.

In 1948 the Gaza Strip became a trusteeship of Egypt. Consequently, the Gazan school system was transferred from British to Egyptian authority and placed under the Egyptian system of education and curriculum. Similarly, the incorporation of the West Bank into Jordan meant the extension of Jordanian educational authority into the region. Thus, until 1967 the educational systems of the West Bank and Gaza operated under the auspices of two independent states. With the establishment of Israeli occupation in 1967, the structure of education in the territories was subjected to an additional complication. While the Israeli military authorities retained the Jordanian and Egyptian educational systems and curricula in the West Bank and Gaza respectively, actual control of educational institutions was placed firmly under Israeli jurisdiction.3 The Israeli military government has complete authority over matters relating to the financing of, and the hiring and firing of, staff in government schools.4 Moreover, Israeli authorities have compiled a long list of books which are banned from the schools. Any explicit references to versions of Palestinian history and culture of which the authorities disapprove are suppressed. Needless to say, these restrictions make teaching, particularly in the social sciences, problematic.

Since 1967 the number of educational facilities as well as student numbers have grown significantly. In 1967-68 West Bank schools numbered just over 800. Currently, over 1300 schools exist. In Gaza the number of schools has increased from 166 in 1967 to approximately 340 today.5 The expansion of educational services has been especially notable on the post-secondary level of community colleges and universities.

The school system in the West Bank and Gaza is based on the four cycles: kindergarten for children 4 to 5 years old, 6 years of elementary school, 3 years of preparatory school and 3 years of secondary school. At the end of 12 years schooling students take the General Secondary Education Certificate Examination (the tawjihi exam). Admission into institutions of advanced education is determined largely by tawjihi exam results. Education in the occupied territories is provided by three principal sectors: government schools, private schools and UNRWA schools. Government schools, which were established after 1967, are by far the largest sector of the school system. Students pay a nominal tuition and, as mentioned, both financial control and the curriculum are entirely under the auspices of the Israeli government. Private schools are operated by various local and foreign institutions, most of which are of a religious nature. Some of these schools provide only kindergarten although others offer educational courses through secondary level. UNRWA, which is particularly important in the Gaza Strip, provides education only through primary and preparatory levels and tuition is free. All further education has to be provided by either the private or governmental sectors.

Since the beginning of the intifada, however, the five main universities of the West Bank and Gaza and most of the preparatory and secondary schools and even primary schools have been subject to frequent and prolonged closures. The effects of these closures could mean a decline in educational attainment among the current school age sector of the Palestinian population. It should be noted, however, that this survey is unable to measure this potential decline. However, in a subsequent chapter which deals with political and social attitudes, survey results are presented that could suggest that the extensive disruption of education, which has had its greatest impact on those who are currently from 15 to 25 years of age, may be producing a discernible surge of intolerance among younger Palestinians.

Specifically, this chapter will explore changes in literacy rates, educational attainment and the impact of education on economic mobility, use of leisure and attitudes. It should be noted that within the framework of a base line study, only some of the survey data collected can be presented here. Again, the reader is also advised to consult this book's appendix A, on sampling strategy.


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