Amid the escalating Israel-Palestine conflict, there remains a generation of Palestinian children denied access to traditional education. Despite immense adversity, education remains an important priority in Palestinian society. Education is, in part, a mode of sustaining Palestine’s unique culture amid exile and foreign occupation. More than 95% of children are enrolled in basic education across Palestine. While impressive, this statistic obscures the tribulations and barriers that Palestinian youth experience in their educational journeys. Both males and those with disabilities are at a disproportionately higher rate of not completing their education with 25% of boys dropping out of school by age 15. Equally concerning, is that “22.5% of boys and 30% of girls aged 6-15 years with a disability have never enrolled in school.” International aid organizations are committed to improving access to education in Palestine.
Low School Completion Rates
Low rates of school completion are inherently tied to Palestine’s failing job market. The economy is crippled by decades of sanctions and isolationism. Currently, youth unemployment rates are 40% in the West Bank and 62% in Gaza. Simply, many young Palestinians do not see the incentive in completing their education if it will not guarantee them job opportunities.
For the Palestinian education system to thrive, the state’s circulation of job opportunities needs to be drastically improved. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) offers a technical and vocational training program to Palestinian refugee youth to help them gain skills for the Middle Eastern job sector. The UNRWA runs eight centers with a capacity for about 7,500 students. Furthermore, UNICEF works on “life-skills and entrepreneurship skills programs for adolescents to support their future employment.”
Influence of West Bank Violence on Education
Violent episodes of conflict along the West Bank and Gaza Strip hinder education in Palestine. Due to the crisis in the region, almost half a million children in Palestine require humanitarian assistance. The closure of the Gaza Strip and its accompanying physical access restrictions vehemently infringe upon the liberties and learning potential of young Palestinians. Having to regularly pass by military checkpoints and settlements on the way to school has untold psychological effects on Palestinian youth. Even at home, almost 90% “of children are subjected to psychological aggression” and 74% are physically punished.
Organizations such as UNICEF fight to create violence-free environments across Palestine. “It is our collective duty to protect every child on the journey to school and at school and to ensure that they can access the quality education which is the right of every child, everywhere,” says Genevieve Boutin, UNICEF special representative in the State of Palestine. She further explains that education is integral to achieving peace.
The Future of Palestinian Education
Still, much remains to be done to improve access to education in Palestine. Across Palestine, classrooms remain immensely overcrowded and underfunded. From a lack of classrooms to textbook shortages, Palestinian students are forced to beat the odds. Sometimes, students must study with no light due to frequent power outages. In fact, the Gaza Strip is only able to garner a meager four to six hours of electricity daily.
It is crucial that the United States and other powerful countries increase their humanitarian assistance and aid to the Palestinian territories. As violence continues to erupt, the U.N. is actively involved in mediation efforts. International organizations must continue targeted development projects in marginalized Palestinian communities. The future of education in Palestine depends on the unity and support of the international community.
– Conor Green