A teacher gives a class to Palestinian bedouin students outdoors near the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim (seen in the background), in the West Bank village of Al-Eizariya, east of Jerusalem. The Israeli forces dismantled the caravans that were used as classrooms for the Beduin community school on February 20, residents said. According to school officials, the Israeli army informed them that the containers were removed because they did not have an Israeli-issued construction permit to stay in the area.
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.