5. Education Data

Since 1966 when UNRWA's expenditure on education outstripped that on food rations, education has become the most important activity of the Agency as measured in monetary expenses.

UNRWA operates at present 640 elementary and preparatory schools in the five Fields of operations. Registered Palestine refugee children are accepted into the first grade of UNRWA elementary schools at the age of six. UNRWA offers six years of elementary education and three years of preparatory education in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Syrian Arab Republic. In Lebanon and Jordan, the Agency offers four years of preparatory education for all pupils who have successfully completed the six year elementary cycle. UNRWA elementary and preparatory schools follow the curricula of the host countries.

At the upper secondary level, UNRWA does not operate its own schools except in Lebanon where one secondary school was opened in October 1993 in Beirut Area. In other Fields and other Areas of Lebanon, refugee students, at this level, attend private or government schools, in the latter case free of charge. In Lebanon, however, UNRWA used to provide financial assistance to refugee students enrolled in private and in government schools, but due to financial difficulties facing the Agency, this practice has been stopped effective 1992/1993 school year.

At the higher education level, UNRWA awards a limited number of scholarships to academically outstanding students to study in Middle Eastern universities27. It also operates its own:

  1. pre-service teacher training programme which has been upgraded effective September 1993 from two-year post-secondary programme to four-year programme leading to first university degree;
  2. in-service teacher training programme for any unqualified or under-qualified education staff in UNRWA schools and training centres;
  3. post-preparatory and post-secondary vocational and technical education programme for students of both sexes and the eight training centres in the five Fields.
Some refugee students also attend non-UNRWA vocational institutions in the Middle East under Agency sponsorship.
What opportunities do UNRWA's educational data offer for research on the education of Palestine refugees? Publicly available statistics about UNRWA's educational system are summarized in the 140 pages Statistical Yearbook produced by UNRWA's Department of Education. The Yearbook also contains a description of UNRWA's educational services and structure.

Parallel to UNRWA's health statistics, the coverage of UNRWA's educational statistics is limited to information on UNRWA's own educational programmes. At the elementary and preparatory levels, where UNRWA maintains its own educational system, roughly 80% of refugee pupils in the five Fields attend UNRWA schools.28 UNRWA statistics thus provide educational information about the majority of the refugee population. The main limitation is that we do not know who this majority is.

Attendance to private and governmental schools is in principle based on the choice of refugee families themselves. It is thus reasonable to speculate whether the group of refugee pupils attending private and governmental schools differ systematically from other refugee pupils with regard to their families' socio-economic status. The main factor determining their choice is nevertheless the availability of an UNRWA school in the locality or not. If no UNRWA school is available, then the refugees try to join a government school. Few pupils join private schools except in Lebanon and the West Bank where 9% of the pupils at the elementary level are enrolled in private schools.29 In Lebanon there are restrictions on the enrolment of Palestine refugee children in government schools.

Even though UNRWA possesses some information about refugee pupils in private and governmental schools, this information is characterized by under-reporting of the number of students.30 In spite of its broad coverage, UNRWA's educational statistics thus do not provide an exhaustive picture of the educational situation of Palestine refugees in the five Fields. This fact may pose problems for research within each Field as well as for comparison between the Fields.

The numerical tables of the Yearbook provides a wide range of statistics for different units (see Appendix 4 for a comprehensive list of units and variables). Both the type of information, which include very few problematic concepts and definitions, as well as the procedure for collection, (where incentives for incorrect reporting are small) give little reason to doubt the reliability of the data.

Information within the Department of Education is forwarded from the schools to the respective Field Offices and subsequently to the UNRWA Headquarters. The units of analysis in this information are mainly schools, classes, teachers, and pupils. One may therefore assume that educational information on a school and Area level exists within the Department of Education. This information would, if made publicly available, enhance the research potential of UNRWA educational statistics. The principal problem in using UNRWA statistics for research on education of refugees is the high level of aggregation in the publicly accessible material (the Statistical Yearbook). If confined to the tables of the Yearbook, the units of analysis will have to be the five Fields. 31

27.) Universities in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, West Bank, Gaza, Iraq Libya, Turkey, Yemen, Sudan, Algeria and Tunisia.
28.) Source: UNRWA Statistical Yearbook for Education; 1992-1993, table 4
29.) Source: UNRWA Statistical Yearbook for Education; 1992-1993, table 4
30.) UNRWA ceased to give assistance to refugee pupils in government and private schools in the school year of 1992-1993. This has resulted in a lack of interest and incentive for these schools to report refugee pupils enrolment to UNRWA. Private schools under-report or do not report the attendance of refugee pupils in their schools and the figures with respect to refugees in government schools are also believed to be incomplete (UNRWA Statistical Yearbook for Education; 1992-1993).
31.) To our knowledge UNWRA has collected data about interruptions of education in the Agency«s schools due to the Intifada and civil war in Lebanon. Interruptions of education have a severe impact on learning. It is estimated that children living in Gaza and the West Bank have lost between 35-50 % of the school days because of school closures and curfews in the four years between 1988 and 1992 (Cultivating Palestinian Education 1992; 6)

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