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The First Palestinian Curriculum for General Education
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 programs.
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. 7).

Shortcomings

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 relatives.
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 faced.
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 information.
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.

Bibliography

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 Development Center.
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.

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