Educational Attainment

The sharp increase in literacy of the Palestinian population corresponds to the marked increase in the number of school years the younger generations of Palestinians have completed and the closing of the gender gap between the amount of education received by men and women.

Figure 5.4 reflects the evolution of Palestinian educational attainment over at least the past 40 years. It indicates a sharp jump in educational attainment separating those who are currently from 50 to 59 years from those who are older. However, it also indicates that men, much more so than women, were the beneficiaries of the initial improvement in general educational levels. The gender gap, the average length of female education in per cent of male education, did not significantly begin to narrow until some 20 years ago. This could suggest that it was only at this point that, first, Palestinian attitudes to female education began to change radically and, second, Palestinian families felt they could afford to send their daughters to school.

Figure 5.4 Mean number of completed school years by gender and age groups

The survey data also indicates that UNRWA refugees stay in school somewhat longer than non-refugees (an average of 8.3 years versus 7.8). Again Christians enjoy on average longer educations (9.7 years) than Muslims (7.9). There are also significant variations between regions. In figure 5.5 refugee camps have been separated as a distinct category.

Figure 5.5 Years of education by region

Notably, if the older generation of camp refugees who have little or no education are overlooked, the educational attainment of camp refugees is as high as for Palestinians living in Arab Jerusalem. In fact, other survey data suggests that West Bank camp refugees are more likely than any other single group to have advanced education. Some 21% of them have schooling beyond the secondary level compared to only 9% of those who live in West Bank villages and 17% of the residents of Arab Jerusalem. UNRWA refugees in general have a significantly higher educational level than their non-refugee counterparts. Some 45% have at least 10 years schooling compared to 36% of other Palestinians.

On the other end of the spectrum, however, the survey data indicates that among the younger age groups, there still exists a significant percentage who are illiterate. In the West Bank, Gaza and Arab Jerusalem, camps excluded, some 7% of Palestinians between 20 and 29 years of age say they have had no schooling whatsoever. For camp refugees in this age group the figure is 2%.

It is widely believed that UNRWA and private schools provide a better education than that provided by the Israeli government system. Partly this may reflect the resentment many Palestinians experience over Israeli control of the educational curriculum. The survey data shows that some 9% of those who had attended UNRWA schools were not in fact UNRWA registered refugees although whether they were attracted by the quality of education or the lack of tuition fees (or both) is uncertain. Survey results suggest that those who had attended UNRWA schools had somewhat higher literacy rates (87%) than those who had attended government schools (83%) and stayed in school somewhat longer (UNRWA mean = 10.2 years, government mean = 9.7 years). On these criteria private schools seem to demonstrate the best performance. 90% of those who had attended private schools were fully literate and the average number of years of school attendance was 10.9. However, the differences are small and should be treated with caution. Except with reference to literacy rates, it needs to be stressed, moreover, that the survey data cannot be used to make judgements on the quality, in contrast to the quantity, of education.

The survey was also interested in determining why those Palestinians who had left school having completed only 9 years or less had not continued their educations. Of most interest is the data collected for those currently of school age. This data indicates that women are the most frequent early school leavers (table 5.3).

Table 5.3 Percentage of Palestinians leaving school with 9 years or less of education by age
15-19 years2237
20-29 years3751

When the reported reasons for leaving school are examined, men and women seem to discontinue their educations for somewhat different reasons. Because the number of observations among those between 15 and 19 are rather small, table 5.4 can only serve to identify general trends.

Table 5.4 Main reason for leaving school with 9 years or less of education by age, percentage
Helping family at home11161520
Not clever enough56412919
Not enough money17201112
Because of intifada31114
Transport problems-63-

The results reveal a fairly complicated picture which is difficult to interpret clearly. Although among women early marriage seems to be a factor in school leaving, for the youngest group of women, a reported lack of academic ability appears to be the single most important reason for leaving school. The same is true for the youngest group of men. However, why men should feel less clever than women and both men and women in the youngest age group feel less clever than those in the preceding age group is unclear. The costs of education, both in terms of direct costs and opportunity costs, such as lost labour, appear to be a major cause inhibiting the continuation of schooling. The intifada, and the accompanying fear that parents harbour for their children's safety, seems to be having a more disruptive effect on the education of women than of men.


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