Education in the Jordan Valley: Palestinian Ministry of Education

The Ministry of Education can do very little to help schools in Area C

For the past few weeks I have been working on a project revealing the horrid conditions of  Palestinian education in the Jordan Valley.  There are myriad reasons why the Palestinians in the Valley receive little to no help in the development of the educational system there; however, the main obstacle is the classification of nearly 95% of the Valley as Area C, meaning education is Israel’s responsibility and the PA is unable to do much for the schools.  For the next few days I will be posting excerpts from my project, including profiles on four schools in the Jordan Valley as well as a look at how the Israeli occupation changes the lives of the Palestinian youth.  See the post on Area C here, the legal right to education here, the role of the PA here, a case study on the Ka’abneh village here, infrastructure here and demolitions here.  See also a look at the Ein Il Hilwe School here. Unless noted, I took all the photos in this series when visiting the Valley.

Understanding that a prosperous education is the only means to a successful future, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MoEHE) is aiming to improve the Palestinian educational system through concrete goals and steps.  The Ministry has expressed two main goals for the Palestinian education system.  First, the MoEHE aims to increase the access of all educational levels to all school-aged children throughout Palestine and to improve the ability of the educational system to retain students and reduce the drop-out rate.  Secondly, the Ministry intends to improve the quality of the teaching and learning, construct new educational institutions, promote a special needs program, introduce an expanded career guidance service, improve the existing educational facilities and develop more student services and activities.  The Ministry also intends to ensure that all Palestinian schools are equipped with an updated computer lab and science lab as well as a library in order to completely modernize Palestinian education and to provide the children with the tools and knowledge necessary to succeed.

For Mohamad Hawash, the Minister of Education for the Jericho District, perhaps the most frustrating aspect of working in the Jordan Valley is the restrictions on the services he can provide to Palestinian students.  Several years ago, Mr. Hawash had successfully found donors for a new girls school in the village of Zubeidat.  After securing the funding and drawing up the plans, the project was delayed indefinitely because of an Israeli refusal to provide a building permit.  Eventually, the Ministry lost the donors and the school was never built.  Although the girls of the village are forced to attend school in the building of Municipality Council, the Ministry in Jericho has finally received a permit to build a school in a nearby village.  It took Mr. Hawash and the Ministry three years of petitioning the Israeli government to secure the correct permit.

Many schools operate without funding from the ministry

While the MoEHE has made strides towards achieving these goals throughout much of the West Bank, its inability to truly reach many of the schools located in the Jordan Valley has made many of these goals unattainable.  The Ministry’s strategic plan stipulates that “special attention will be given to the poor.  Classrooms, schools and non-formal education programs will be established in geographical locations where poverty is higher or where people are isolated due to Israeli restrictions.”[1] The classification of 95% of the Jordan Valley as Area C or restricted zones under the Oslo Accords not only isolates communities within the region, restricts the movement of Palestinians and creates outrageous levels of poverty, it also severely restricts the ability of the Ministry to develop schools in the area.

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s idea of a comprehensive Palestinian strategy, though rife with symbolic Palestinian unity, unfortunately results in the schools of Area C lacking many of the benefits provided to other Palestinian schools.  Under Fayyad’s plan, the government does not give preference to schools in Area C – indeed, it sees only Palestinian schools, with no division into the Oslo Areas.  Therefore the same plans are developed for every school, regardless of the school’s location or the possibility of attaining the correct permits.  Without any authority in Area C, the Ministry is severely limited.  The Ministry of Education for the Jericho Governorate, for example, is able to provide school supplies and food, but is prohibited from providing help with the Tawjihi – an important test at the end of high school – or with transportation for students or teachers.  Such restrictions make it impossible to develop schools equally throughout Palestine.  Indeed, development in Area C is so restricted that the Ministry needs special permits to simply plant a tree.[2]

The Ministry of Education is powerless when even the better schools receive demolition orders

Despite the pressing needs of the schools in the Jordan Valley, and although the MoEHE has determined that these schools have the greatest need for governmental assistance, the Ministry does not have the authority to make significant, required improvements to Palestinian schools in the Jordan Valley.  Although it is charged with the education of all Palestinians, the Ministry is only able to provide the salaries of and offer trainings to the teachers of schools in Area C.  Nearly all the schools in the Jordan Valley are in need of some kind of renovation, while many villages lack a school altogether.  Moreover, most schools in the Valley, and particularly in those communities located in Area C, struggle to provide the most basic of services to its students.

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education has set some very ambitious goals for the next five years, looking to drastically improve the Palestinian educational system.  Left behind, unfortunately, are the children who happen to live in Area C.  Although the Ministry has a clear plan for Palestinian education, the limitations imposed on the Ministry’s capacities by the occupation have immense consequences for the children of the Jordan Valley.

[1] Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Strategic Plan. P. 49.

[2] “Israel will not allow us to even plant a tree.” – Mosa Aboromi, Head of Public Relations, Ministry of Education, Jericho Governorate.  25,11.2010

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