A few months ago a friend asked me what types of schools my students go to and about the educational system here in general. I’ve been frustrated by the difficulty of learning about this subject over the past few months. Replying to Camille’s e-mail, though I discovered that I’ve absorbed more information about the subject than I realized. I still want to go beyond the surface level, but the overview I gave her offers a view that those of you living elsewhere may be interested to read.
The kids at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization are mostly from Nablus’ refugee camps, so they go to UNRWA schools in very overcrowded classrooms until their two final years of secondary school, when all Palestinian students enter tawjihi–two years of specialization in something like sciences, literature, or industry (I tried to get more detailed info. in my time in Nablus, but everyone told me a different number of tawjihi branches). Near the end of the second tawjihi year students take long exams for several weeks, and their scores determine what they can study in university (if they go to university). The highest-scoring students inevitably study engineering in the hopes that it will assure them a job. More women than men attend university, and a majority of women study English or Arabic Literature in order to become teachers, which is again something that’s considered “safe” in terms of job availability, but also acceptable for women, as they can work in gender-segregated schools and be home at the same times as their children.
Besides tawjihi, the whole school system is based heavily on testing. We did a check-in at the beginning of every class, and generally one third to one half of the kids’ responses related to how they scored on exams or whether they had just begun or ended a testing period. I also interviewed the director of Nablus schools at one point, and all her comments regarding the quality of education in Nablus, achievements, and areas for improvement revolved around test scores.
Until recently, the curriculum in the West Bank came from Jordan, while the curriculum in Gaza came from Egypt. A few years ago, the Palestinian Authority implemented a new curriculum, which, according to officials, better reflects Palestinian history, culture, etc. I read an article criticizing the new curriculum as being driven by Zionist and colonial ideologies. While I’m inclined to believe the criticism (apparently USAID and Israeli administrations had a major hand in shaping the curriculum), the article provided no particular evidence for the claims. One of the authors is a professor at Bir Zeit University, so I emailed her department requesting suggestions for further resources to learn about the topic, but I received no reply.