The mainstream educational system in Palestine was, over a long
period of time, characterized by serious distortions and
fragmentation. Occupation, coupled with Jordanian and Egyptian rule
in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip respectively, resulted in a
fundamental lack of coherence in the educational system.
Subsequently, the structural problems within the Palestinian
educational system were compounded by the physical effects of the
Israeli occupation. For example, the Israeli authorities forcibly
closed schools on a regular basis since the outbreak of the
Palestinian resistance to occupation, the Intifada (1987-1991).
This had severe deleterious consequences on all aspects of the
quality of education.
The signing, in 1993, of the Declaration of Principles (DOP)
between the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the government
of Israel, led to a series of political agreements that accorded
the Palestinians autonomy in some sectors, including education.
This autonomy is, for the time being, limited both in terms of
scope and geographical coverage, and, to date, has brought about
few structural changes in Palestinian society.
A Relevant Curriculum
In its effort to develop a comprehensive Palestinian National Plan,
the PLO was seriously concerned about developing a curriculum for
general education. Therefore, the Palestinian Curriculum
Development Center was established under the supervision of the
Palestinian Ministry of Education and with the cooperation of
UNESCO. The project received financial support from the Italian
Ministry of International Cooperation. The concept of developing a
Palestinian curriculum incorporates a variety of objectives dealing
with elements of the curriculum, such as content, methodology of
teaching and technological aids needed for educational
Moreover, the PLO and all of those who work on developing the
Palestinian curriculum are keen on devising one that relates to and
reflects the political and social situation of Palestinian society.
Thus, the curriculum, which adopted the philosophy of the Document
for Independence of the Palestinian State (1988), was founded on
the fact that Palestine has its own uniqueness in terms of
civilization, religion, culture and geography. "The basic
philosophy of the proposed curriculum which intends to transmit
relevant knowledge, values and skills is rooted in the Palestinian
consciousness of its national heritage, its long significant
history and its national affiliation with the land of Palestine and
with Arab national culture. It is also conscious of its aspiration
to enter the twenty-first century as a productive and equal member
of the nations of the modern world" (Abu Lughud et al., 1996, p.
Part of the national plan for developing the Palestinian curriculum
was evaluating and providing analysis of each subject and its
content by specialists, as well as through workshops and
questionnaires addressed to teachers, students and relevant
professionals. Some of the interesting results related to Arabic,
English and social studies show shortcomings in the areas of
gender, local culture and national spirit, extracurricular
reinforcement, and resources.
The evaluation of the curriculum showed that it is gender-biased
and reinforces the traditional roles of females and males. Women
are portrayed as mothers and wives, cooking and sewing or working
as nurses, teachers, secretaries. Men, on the other hand, are
presented as doctors, mechanics and athletes. Moreover, only a few
women are mentioned - those of historical fame, such as Marie
Curie. In Petra, the English textbook for the 5th-10th grades, out
of 23 poems, only two are by women. In Arabic textbooks, the
disparity in number between male and female authors is on average
130:5. And three of the women authors write on male issues, e.g,
Fadwa Tuqan's "Martyrs of the Uprising."
The curriculum does not address the Palestinian national spirit and
culture, but rather emphasizes the Egyptian and the Jordanian
cultures through Egyptian and other Arab writers and poets. Some
Palestinian poets are presented, but they relate either to the role
of Egypt or Jordan on the Palestinian issue. Therefore, the
curriculum needs to be revised in keeping with the latest
political, economic, and social developments on both the
Palestinian and the international levels. The Palestinian objective
is to emphasize the different values and concepts that would help
in building a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital
(Palestinian Curriculum Development Center, 1997, p. 11).
There are many critical issues related to the curriculum that
should be developed and presented within the above-mentioned
framework of Palestinian nationality and its values. Defining the
borders of the Palestinian state, for example, is not a simple
matter, since politicians are still negotiating and have not
reached an agreement. Teaching the history of Palestine and the
1948 war is another sensitive issue. Sources like the local media
and Palestinian literature are available at universities or through
Palestinian popular music, but, by and large, Palestinians learn
about their history through oral narration by their parents and
In teaching social sciences, some of the most important questions
would be: Which Palestine should we teach? Is it historical
Palestine over its whole geographical area, or is it the Palestine
that will emerge out of the political agreements signed with
Israel? How to deal with Israel? Is it only a neighbor state or one
that was established on Palestinian land? (Palestinian Curriculum
Development Center, 1996, p. 454).
No Absolute Truth
The 5th-grade Palestinian National Education textbook talks about
Palestinian society, its origins, its history (under Omayyad,
Mameluke, Ottoman and British rule), and its tradition and culture.
It also mentions Palestine after the war of 1948 and under the
Israeli occupation after 1967 and, at one point, the peace
agreement between the PLO and Israel. A page of the same text
presents the Declaration of Independence of Palestine that was
proclaimed by the Palestinian National Council in 1988. However, no
map defines the borders of Palestine; it can only be located in the
Arab world map. Consequently, a detailed reference to the projected
borders of Palestine after the peace agreement is missing. Oral
narration aside, this shows the extent of the sensitivity of
presenting the political aspects of the Palestinian-Israeli issue
from the Palestinian point of view, and of explaining the present
unclear political situation and the obstacles yet to be
Regarding our Palestinian history and political situation, the
Palestinian Curriculum Development Center pronounces that "...Truth
is not absolute or final, and that there is no clear judgment"
(Palestinian Curriculum Development Center, 1996, p. 455). The same
source, however, claims that historical facts should not be
changed, and propounds the use of scientific methods. It is,
indeed, important for students to be exposed to a variety of
sources and to use analytical and research skills to gain
Therefore, the question of how to present Israel, for example, in
the Palestinian curriculum should be approached along the same
principle. The curriculum has to present a variety of sources,
including Israeli ones. Israeli literature and references should be
available to Palestinian students, to enable them to analyze and
acquire information the scientific way.
Abu Lughoud, I., Jarbawi, A., et al. (1996). A Comprehensive Plan
for the Development of the First Palestinian Curriculum for General
Education, 2nd Edition. Ramallah: The Palestinian Curriculum
The Palestinian Authority, The Ministry of Education (1997). The
First Palestinian Curriculum. Ramallah.
The Palestinian Authority, the Ministry of Education (1996). The
Palestinian National Education, 5th grade. Ramallah.