Palestinians seeking education as a tool for comprehensive development (social and political) of their communities set up independent public schools in their respective cities and towns. According to Sfeir and Bertoni of Bethlehem university, enrollment rates between 1933 and 1946 tripled from 6,986 to 21,468. Arabic became the medium of instruction during the Mandate years.
After British withdrawal from the region and the 1948 war, Jordan and Egypt became responsible for the education systems in West Bank and Gaza respectively. Under these systems of education, more emphasis was placed on the histories of the controling states, than the history of the Palestinians themselves. The picture of a unique Palestinian national identity and culture was largely absent in the curriculum.
UNDER ISRAELI CONTROL
After the Six Day War of 1967, Israel occupied the territories and once again the responsibility of providing education was transferred to a new power. According to a report by the Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy, the Israeli authorities curtailed the authority of teachers in freely emanating political and historical information.Textbooks were censored before they reached Palestinian classrooms and information was withheld from teachers.
Additionally, the report also explains that a centralized system helped in keeping track of type of curriculum being taught in Palestinian schools. However, it should be noted that a centralized system was vital for attaining a uniform standard of education. It was during this period that non-governmental organizations becamse involved in the education sector.
MINISTRY OF EDUCATION EMERGES
The Ministry of Education and Higher Education in the occupied territories was established in August 1994 – one of the most significant outcomes of Oslo accords. In 1996, higher education was transferred to a new ministry under the title of the Palestinian Ministry of Higher Education. In 2002, the two ministries merged to become one department named the "Ministry of Education and Higher Education."
The Ministry of Education and Higher Education initially started work in adherence to Jordanian and Egyptian laws and regulations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Finally, in 2004, the Ministry of Education presented the Palestinian education law draft which was ratified in its first and second drafts. The law is yet to be ratified in its final version.
The ministry has attempted to achieve significant progress in the Palestinian educational system since its inception. In 1994/1995, there were ten directorates (nine in the West Bank and two in Gaza Strip). The number in 2007/2008 reached 22 directorates (16 in the West Bank and six in Gaza Strip), with seven government higher education institutions. Each directorate is headed by one director who is assisted by two deputies (one administrative deputy and another technical deputy).
The number of Palestinian students increased over 13 years from 618,000 in 1994 to 1.1 million in 2007 with an annual increase rate of six percent. Concurrently, the number of schools rose from 1,470 to 2,430 with an annual increase rate of five percent. New educational facilities have been built while being aided by an expansion in the two-shift system. The number of employees in the schools has experienced an annual increase rate of 14.5 percent. The percentage of teachers who hold at least BA degrees has risen from 39.6 percent to 73.7 percent over the same period.
- Government: The Ministry supervises the majority of public Palestinian schools, including some schools in East Jerusalem.The number of students in government schools increased from 419,000 to 767,000 between 1994 and 2000 with an annual increase rate of 6.4 percent.
- UNRWA: The majority of UNRWA schools are located in the refugee camps, with a large number concentrated in the Gaza Strip. UNRWA supervises 34.4 percent of the schools in Gaza Strip and 5.3 percent of schools in the West Bank. The number of students enrolled in UNRWA schools in the occupied territories decreased from 24.6 percent to 23.1 percent while the number of teachers rose from 4,370 to 9,279 . This may be partly because UNRWA has been trying to reduce the student-teacher ratio in order to improve the quality of education.
- Private schools: These schools are supervised and funded by charitable associations and bodies and the private for-profit sector. Student enrollment in privately funded schools decreased from 11.4 percent to 7.1 percent between 1994 and 2000, with a rise in number of teachers from 3,151 to 5,404 teachers for the same period.
Education is a battleground of competition between the various political groups operating in the occupied Palestinian territories, as religious and secular, Palestinian and the donor community seek to influence the course of events in the political sphere.