Schools in Palestine under the Occupation and the Palestinian National Authority
Education is the largest sector run by the Palestinian National
Authority (PNA). It caters for the social, educational and
employment needs of more than 38 percent of the population. Prior
to its transfer to the PNA, this sec¬tor was stultified and
hampered by obstacles, as external political forces were impeding
its development and dictating its course.
Palestinian education in the 1950s and 1960s was subject to both
Jordanian and Egyptian policies, and later to Israeli ones. In the
last 27 years, Palestinian educators had to struggle to overcome
the many severe problems created by the Israeli Occupation. They
had to fend against academic restrictions, frequent and prolonged
closures, the banning of textbooks and educational material and the
severe measures targeting educational institutions during the
Intifada. The impact of such policies has been immeasurable and
will be felt for many years to come.
Education under the Israeli Occupation
During the 27 years of Occupation, Palestinian educational
institutions suf¬fered a drastic decline in quality and
growth. No new schools were built during the first 10 years of
Occupation and very few have been built since then. Thus the
expansion of school facilities and the hiring of additional
teachers did not keep pace with the dramatic growth in the student
popula¬tion. Classrooms became increasingly overcrowded, with
an average class size in government schools reaching 40 to 60
students per class.
Most government schools lacked basic facilities, such as vocational
workshops and audiovisual teaching aids. Science laboratories had a
shortage of the necessary equipment for carrying out experiments.
Meager funding and the high number of banned books limited the
schools' capac¬ity to provide adequate libraries for their
students. Extracurricular activi¬ties, vital for students'
academic, social and cultural development were prohibited by the
Israeli authorities, as were science clubs and cultural lectures.
In a survey carried out by the MEHE, it was found that many schools
still lacked such essential facilities as proper toilets.
Additionally, the continued restrictive measures taken by the
authorities against government school teachers had deprived schools
from reaching sound educational standards. For example, graduates
of West Bank univer¬sities could not be hired to teach in
those schools. Low salaries compared to those paid to their
colleagues in Jordan, Israel, UNRWA and private schools, had made
it difficult for these government schools to keep their good
teach¬ers or attract new ones. Low pay had sapped teachers'
morale and com¬pelled many of them to seek a second,
supplementary job elsewhere.
The severity of the educational situation in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip reached an acute level during the Intifada. The extended and
repeated clo¬sures of schools by the Israeli authorities,
impacted negatively on the schools' ability to proceed normally
with a structured learning-teaching process.
Unfortunately, there are no objective data or studies to inform
judgment about the quality of education or skills imparted to
Palestinian children under the Occupation. In 1990, an attempt was
made to fill this vacuum, and an initiative to assess the skill
levels of about 3,000 elementary schoolchildren was carried out in
the central region of the West Bank.¹ This unprecedented study
found that elementary school children had great difficulties
acquiring even basic skills in Arabic and mathematics. A
num¬ber of randomly selected results among fourth-graders
showed the fol¬lowing: only 24 percent tested could accurately
measure [with a ruler] a given line segment that was five
centimeters long; 73 percent could not add ½ + ¼. Only
2.3 percent of fourth-graders tested and 22.8 percent of
sixth-graders were able to produce the required number of
sentences, and those they wrote lacked relevant ideas, correct
grammatical structure and appropriate vocabulary. Sixth-graders'
answers in the reading compre¬hension sections were fully
correct no more than 30 percent of the time.
The situation at the other end of the education ladder, i.e.,
secondary education, has always been a concern for Palestinian
educators. Prior to 1967, students prepared for a Jordanian-based
matriculation examina¬tion, "Tawjihi," in the West Bank, and
an Egyptian-based one in the Gaza Strip. The exam depends heavily
on rote learning; it does not measure critical or independent
thinking; and is limited in scope and content, as it is based on
the final year of schooling. In addition, the exam does not test
students' ability in the practical application of knowledge gained
in the sciences and vocational education courses.
The relevance and quality of this exam have always been questioned
by Palestinian educators. First, the school curricula are directly
controlled by the Israelis and indirectly by the Jordanians and the
Egyptians, while the Tawjihi examination itself is directly
controlled by Jordan and Egypt. Second, the severity of the exam,
the average pass rates and the grading levels are set each year by
the Jordanian-Egyptian education ministries in relation to their
own educational plans and their own universities' needs. This,
naturally, affects the results in the West Bank and Gaza as well,
even though the student population in the territories may not fit
into Jordan's and Egypt's educational planning.
Development under the MEHE
On the eve of the transfer of the Education power to the PNA in the
West Bank and Gaza, the deterioration in Palestinian education had
reached emer¬gency proportions. The situation called for an
urgent intensive program of measures to arrest such degeneration.
The Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE),
however, made a strategic decision to go on, during the first year,
with the management of the system as it was inherited from the
Israelis. This, the MEHE thought, would curtail any loss of time
and would avoid any unnecessary upheaval and disruption in the
system. It would also give the MEHE the needed breathing space for
a closer acquain¬tance with the system, in order to draw the
necessary work plans for improvement and for moving towards quality
building in education.
A major challenge the MEHE faced in its first year was the
existence of two different educational systems in the West Bank and
the Gaza Strip: the Jordanian one in the former, and the Egyptian
in the latter.
Thus, the MEHE took some important steps towards unifying the two
systems and bridging the gap between the two geographical areas by
stan¬dardizing the nominal tuition fees and textbook
A major achievement during the 1994/95 school year was the
con¬ducting, for the first time under full Palestinian
control, of the secondary school matriculation exam (the Tawjihi),
simultaneously in the West Bank and Gaza. The exam papers were
graded and the results computed and announced by the MEHE without
any interference from abroad. The Tawjihi's credibility as an
important exam was regained after the many difficulties it had
faced during the Intifada.
As noted earlier, the absence of in-service training for teachers
during the Occupation had led to the employment of a significant
number of unqualified teachers. Their knowledge in certain
disciplines was obsolete. Consequently, the MEHE appreciates the
need for teacher-training workshops for the improvement of subject
matter knowledge and the upgrading of teaching skills.
Child-centered and learning-by-doing meth¬ods are encouraged.
In addition, outside reading and the use of school libraries are
promoted as part of the training programs now planned and conducted
by the MEHE. These last for more than 800 working days, and include
school supervisors and administrators as well.
Most public secondary vocational schools and post-secondary
voca¬tional and technical colleges were on the verge of total
collapse and clo¬sure when the MEHE took over the Education
authority. The programs they offered were obsolete and, thus,
incompatible with Palestinian soci¬etal needs. Student
enrollment was continuously dropping.
The MEHE has organized meetings and international workshops and
contacts to set new policies for the development of vocational and
technical education programs. Efforts to develop the vocational and
tech¬nical institutions cover the following areas: maintenance
and supply of equipment and furniture, program development,
training and upgrading of skills of administrative and teaching
staff, and qualifying Palestinian academics in curriculum design
After long years of neglect and denial by the Israeli authorities,
student extracurricular activities in schools have witnessed a
speedy take-off dur¬ing the school year 1994/95. Plenty of
student committees and clubs have been set up and various forms of
activities, including big national fairs and exhibitions, have been
organized. The result was a great sense of collective achievement
In an endeavor to attain educational excellence, some urgent and
persis¬tent issues on quality need to be addressed. These
relate particularly to mathematics and science, general thinking
skills, more effective school management, overall delivery system,
and efficient utilization of educational resources.
Taking these issues as challenges for the development of both the
edu¬cational and the economic systems, in the context of
quality manpower preparation for Palestine, the MEHE will be
introducing reforms in the areas of education management and
administration in general. Particular attention will be given to
school management styles and administrative practices to generate
innovation and quality productivity in the system. One of the most
important features advocated in the education manage¬ment
reform is the integration of the corporate management concept in
strategic planning and problem-solving techniques. Educational
policy¬makers and planners are encouraged to depart from
"technical rationali¬ty" to "reflective rationality," or from
"linear" to "non-linear." Other main strategic issues targeted by
the MEHE in the short term are improving access to schooling,
quality of learning and relevance of educa¬tion to societal
needs. These entail the adoption of the international Jomtien
Declaration of five years ago, which called for making education
available to all by the year 2000. While it recognizes that formal
access is not enough, the MEHE's policy is to assure all students
access to educa¬tional experiences. All children and young
people are entitled to a full pri¬mary and secondary
schooling, yet many are discouraged or diverted from taking full
advantage of those opportunities. Real access requires that
pro¬grams take account of differences in social and cultural
backgrounds and that teaching methods provide for differences in
pace and style of learning.
The immediate and long-term education strategies are very much
influ¬enced by the urgent need to rehabilitate the education
system in line with that of more advanced and developed countries.
At the same time, these strategies will be very much governed by
any national development plan, particularly the Palestinian
economic and social development policies. Consequently, the
challenges facing Palestinians in education are many, and the
following goals and strategies are geared towards meeting
The first challenge is to achieve an integrated Palestine with a
sense of a shared and common destiny. The first goal then is to
establish a national system of education acceptable to the people
of Palestine as a whole, capable of satisfying their needs and
promoting their social, economic, democratic and political
development as a nation. The ultimate objective of educational
policy must be the total integration of the children of all the
different communities in Palestine. At the same time, two of the
funda¬mental requirements of this policy are to orient all
schools in Gaza and the West Bank, both primary and secondary,
toward one common curriculum and to ensure a common content in all
The second challenge is to create a psychologically liberated,
secure, and self-confident Palestinian society. Hence, the second
educational pol¬icy goal is to assure access for all
Palestinian students, irrespective of their gender and/ or
socioeconomic background. Educational expansion and development
policy will ensure classroom space for every child to start grade
one in primary schools at the age of six. At the same time, the
pol¬icy will ensure that the school-leaving age for all
children is 15. This will be made possible through automatic
promotion throughout primary and lower secondary levels and the
institutionalization of compulsory educa¬tion through national
legislation. Other means will be the removal of all barriers to a
student's decision to remain at school, and the promotion of the
value of education to all.
The third challenge is to foster and develop a mature democratic
The fourth is to establish a progressive, innovative and
forward-looking society, not only as a consumer of technology, but
also as a contributor to the scientific and technological
civilization of the future. Finally, there is the challenge of
ensuring an economically prosperous and equitable soci¬ety,
with a competitive, dynamic, robust and resilient economy.
The above challenges have various implications for the educational
system, especially with respect to quality manpower preparation at
the various levels of the school system. Meeting them will usher
the Palestinians into the new millennium.
1. Tamer Institute for Community Education, "Assessment of
Achievement in Arabic and Mathematics of Fourth and Sixth Grade
Students in the Central Region of the West Bank," East Jerusalem,