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Gaza Strip and West Bank

History & Background

The West Bank and Gaza Strip lie on the western edge of Asia; both are territories of Israel. The West Bank is 130 kilometers long and ranges from 40 to 65 kilometers in width, and the Gaza Strip is 45 kilometers long and ranges from 5 to 12 kilometers in width. In 1997 the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip was 1,873,476 and 1,022,207, respectively.

About 50 percent of Palestinians in both areas are under 15 years of age, and this percentage is likely to increase; the fertility rates in both are among the highest in the world. Projections of population growth suggest that there will be over 4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the year 2010, over 5 million in 2015, and over 7 million in 2025, presenting a significant challenge to the maintenance of a high quality educational system. Palestinians value education highly: literacy rates for males and females (approximately 92 percent and 77 percent respectively) are among the highest in the Arab world.

Education in these Palestinian territories during the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. There were two kinds of schools for Arabs: government and private. The private schools were Christian or Moslem institutions that had been established by missionaries or landowners. By 1917, the end of the Ottoman Era, there were 379 private schools and 95 government schools.

Between the end of the Ottoman Era and the founding of Israel in 1948, education in Palestine was controlled by Great Britain. The demand for education grew in both urban and rural areas, and by 1946 there was a total of 795 schools available to Arabs in Palestine (with 118,335 Arab students), of which 478 were government schools, 134 were private Moslem schools, and 183 were private Christian schools.

Following the 1948 war, Jordan assumed responsibility for education in the West Bank and Egypt for the Gaza Strip for children who didn't reside in refugee camps. Both created a government school system with elementary (grades 1-6), preparatory (grades 7-9), and secondary (grades 10-12) levels. Both governments instituted a matriculation examination at the end of the twelfth grade, commonly known as the Tawjihi, which was used to assess applicants for postsecondary education. The majority of the children of registered Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip who resided in refugee camps received their first six to nine years of education at schools maintained by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the rest in government schools. There continued during this period to be private Moslem and Christian schools in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The basics of the Egyptian-Jordanian curriculum for the government schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip remained intact after Israel occupied both in 1967. The Israeli occupation authorities (first military, then civil administration within the Ministry of Defense) took over the functions of the education ministries of Egypt and Jordan. They exercised control over curricula in the UNRWA and private schools as well as the government ones and, according to the Palestinian National Authority, attempted to suppress the teaching of Palestinian culture and history. The attempt to do so was at least partially successful: a group of 33 Palestinian students from the Gaza Strip taught by the author in 1994 had received almost no information about the history of the Gaza Strip during their previous education.


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Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceGaza Strip and West Bank - History Background, Educational System—overview, Primary Secondary Education, Higher Education, Summary