A complex situation
Ahmed lives in East-Jerusalem and together with his friends
he goes to school in the Al Huda school in the Old City. He follows classes in
one of the two container classes that are added on the roof of the old building.
They don’t have a playground so, in between the classes, they play on the
street. Also heating or air-conditioning are lacking in the building. During
wintertime they follow classes with their jackets on, and when they start being
cold, they go outside for a while, to jump up and down. When they are warmed up
again, they return to the classroom.
Ahmed is one of 85.000 children going to school in
East-Jerusalem, the Palestinian part of the city. Due to the occupation and the
unclear statute of Jerusalem, the more or less 200 schools in the East have
large educational needs.
In total more than 85.000 Palestinian children follow classes
in East-Jerusalem, in about 200 primary and secondary schools. These 200
schools are very fragmented. There are 74 private schools, 60 municipality
schools, 46 schools managed by a trust under Jordanian tutelage (according to
the ‘Waqf’ system), 7 schools of the United Nations (UNRWA), and 18 ‘Sakhneen’
schools, a type of recognized unofficial schools established as a response to
the scarcity of public schools.
The unclear statute of Jerusalem causes huge problems in the
educational system in East Jerusalem.
Limited number of
One of the major problems is obtaining building permits.
Since the foundation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, the creation of
extra schools in East-Jerusalem has been a top priority, so far without great
The number of Palestinian schools in Jerusalem is limited in
number, building new schools is almost impossible due to a shortage of building
lots destined for public buildings in East-Jerusalem. Also renovations are challenging
due to the long and often complicated procedures to obtain building permits.
Therefore, classes are generally packed and not adapted to the needs of the
pupils, which leads to an environment lacking decent learning conditions. Many schools
fall short of electricity standards, decent sanitation, heating in winter or
air-conditioning against the summer heat.
The lack of classrooms results in overcrowded classes. In
some schools it is not possible for the students to be seated all at the same
time. The precarious schooling conditions give rise to an increased school
dropout rate, especially in secondary education where more than 5000 students
fall outside the schooling system. At present, 36% of the children in East
Jerusalem don’t finish school.
In order to solve this problematic situation, the town now rents
several buildings. Due to the shaky financial situation of most schools in
East-Jerusalem, they are not capable of paying the rental fees themselves.
Moreover, the rented apartments – that are redecorated as classrooms – are
often not adapted to their new function.
Also the acquisition of new buildings by donors and the
international community is planned, but the purchasing process is complicated
due to all administrative and legal obligations that have to be dealt with and
due to the limited amount of available building lots. Finally, 5 buildings have
been purchased over the last couple of years. Further on, the acquisition of 2
extra school buildings by the Islamic Development Bank and Norway is ongoing.
Furthermore, different schools are being renovated, among others thanks to the
Belgian Development Cooperation. In total, 9 schools, out of which 3 private
schools, will be totally renovated in East Jerusalem during 2016. Many others
are subject to small improvements, such as
upgrading the electricity and sanitation, thanks to the help of
What about the
A second problem is the lack of qualified teachers. Especially
for exact sciences, technology and English a shortage exists. There are
multiple causes for this lack of teachers. First of all, for the inhabitants of
the West Bank it is a challenge to commute to Jerusalem. In order to work in
Jerusalem, they are obliged to ask a permit to enter Jerusalem. However, many
permits are refused. They are not allowed either to move closer to work, as
they are only authorized to travel to Jerusalem for work, but in the evenings
they have to return to the West Bank. Staying overnight in Jerusalem is
prohibited for them.
Furthermore, life in Jerusalem is a lot more expensive than
elsewhere in the West Bank, which decreases the actual value of their salary. This
is partly compensated by an extra “Jerusalem-bonus” for teachers working in
East-Jerusalem. Unfortunately, this bonus is not high enough to fully
compensate the additional costs of the transport, the extra cost of living and
the time that is lost while commuting.
A third reason for the shortage of teachers is linked with
the recognition of the Al Quds university. The Al Quds university is the most
important university for Palestinians in Jerusalem, but its degrees are not
recognised by Israel. Therefore, the alumni of, among others, the teacher
training have major issues finding a job.
A financial hole
A third major obstacle is the financial pressure from the
Israeli Ministry of Education. Currently, most schools in Jerusalem, also those
in East-Jerusalem, receive financial support from Israel, as education is,
according to international law, a basic right for everybody. However, from the
Israeli side there are threats to abolish this support. This would be
disastrous for the majority of schools in East-Jerusalem, to the extent that
many fear that, in case no solution is found, by the end of 2016, no
Palestinian education will be possible anymore in Jerusalem, due to financial
reasons. Schools need to receive more financial and judicial support in order
to continue their activities.
A customized curriculum
A forth issue is the battle for the choice of the
curriculum. There are three different types of curricula that are used alongside
each other in East-Jerusalem. Not only the Palestinian curriculum, but also the
Israeli curriculum and a censured version of the Palestinian curriculum
circulate and are used. Israel puts a
large pressure on the Palestinian schools to no longer use the uncensored
version of the Palestinian textbooks and curriculum. These would, according to
Israel, incite hatred and violence. However, this idea has been rejected as
incorrect by a study of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land
In the censured version all references to the Palestinian
nation are minimized and cities like Akko and Haifa, that were originally
Palestinian cities, but currently located in the Israeli territory, are no
longer mentioned. This is unacceptable for the Palestinian Authority as they
see it as an oppression of the Palestinian identity, and they underline having
the right to foster an own national identity.
Schools that refuse to use either the Israeli curriculum or
the censured Palestinian curriculum, risk losing their subsidies. Due to
budgetary reasons, many private schools have already adopted the use of the
To address this situation, the Palestinian authorities call
upon the schools to look for support in the local community, and to decently
inform the parents about the consequences of the different curricula for the
education of their kids. In this way, organisations like parent councils can
exert pressure too.
For a better future
What is needed to overcome these problems is, first of all,
a clear database where all needs and shortcomings of the system are listed, in
terms of shortage of teachers, denied permits, shortage of classrooms,
subsidies, but also other issues like safety standards.
Secondly, there is a need to concentrate the investments in
the education sector for the next couple of years in the most problematic
areas, which makes East-Jerusalem, together with the Gaza Strip one of the top
An additional area of concern is the safety of the students.
This includes not only the safety standards at school, like the regulation of
the electricity and proper sanitation, but also the security of the children on
their way to and back from school. Currently 20% of the students and teachers
have difficulties in reaching their schools. In view of the political situation
and the many security incidents that have occurred in the old city of
Jerusalem, this is definitely an issue to keep in mind.
Furthermore, the fragmentation of the educational system should
be diminished. As already mentioned before, there are different types of
schools, which is the reason why some of them receive more support than others.
For example, private schools in East-Jerusalem are often, wrongly, overlooked.
To overcome these issues and together look for a solution
for the future, a working group on East-Jerusalem has been erected, with the
Palestinian ministries of education and higher education, of Jerusalem, of
foreign affairs and all interested international donors.
The Belgian Development Cooperation has different
educational projects that focus on East-Jerusalem. At present, Belgium is,
together with the Palestinian Authority, responsible for the donor coordination
concerning education in the Palestinian Territory. Furthermore, The Belgian
Development Agency (BTC) is currently renovating 9 schools in East-Jerusalem,
among which also the Al Huda school (see picture) in the Old City.
Additionally, the Belgian Development Cooperation gives budget support to the
Palestinian ministry of education and higher education for the execution of
their education plan.
If all stakeholders work together and gather their forces,
there is a chance that Ahmed and his classmates will be able, in a couple of
years, to safely return to a renewed school with a customized curriculum taught
by enthusiastic teachers.
of Our Own Narratives?, Portrayal of the “Other” in Israeli and Palestinian
School Books, 2013, Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, http://israelipalestinianschoolbooks.blogspot.co.il/