Education News

Developing education in Palestine:
a continuing Challenge

Educational development in Palestine is a unique, rich and challenging experience. Unique because it is one of the very few places in the world, if not the only one, where a Ministry of Education is being built from scratch. Rich because of the eagerness and motivation of the Palestinians to learn from others. Challenging because Palestine is not yet an independent country and is witnessing conflict on a daily basis. IIEP describes the backcloth for its action there.

Because of the high interest and involvement of the international donors, the room for broad partnership, policy dialogue and co-operation in educational development work in Palestine is vast. The amalgamation of diversified international working methods and experiences is exciting and possible.

The fact that Palestine is not yet an independent country and is presently witnessing conflict provides opportunities for a rich learning experience for development workers and donors, and the international education community as a whole, of maintaining the provision of quality education in situations of emergency and crisis.

However, there is a risk that the conflict will also lead to the complete destruc-tion of educational development work in Palestine so far, as well as the loss of prospects of peace in the country and in the region.

Creating a Ministry of Education: IIEP's role

The Palestinian Authority was establishshed in the West Bank and Gaza in May 1994 as a result of the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The Palestinian Ministry of Education was created in August the same year.

At the present time, the West Bank (covering an area of 6,257 Km 2 ) and the Gaza Strip (378 Km 2 ) have an estimated population of 3.15 million Palestinians. About one-third of the population are stu-dents at all levels of education. All through their modern history, Palestinians have always valued education highly. Enrolment in basic education (first 10 years of schooling) is almost comprehensive.

As soon as authority for Palestinian education was transferred from Israeli hands to the Palestinians, UNESCO came to assist in the creation of the Ministry of Education and the development of the education system. With financial and moral support from the donor community, it helped with the construction of badly-needed school buildings and in setting their norms and standards, in curriculum development, the training of teachers, the provision of furniture and salaries for the central ministry staff, and in building planning and management capacity within the education system. IIEP was entrusted with the latter.

From emergency to strategic planning for the future

With funding from the Italian Government, IIEP implemented two important projects with the Palestinian Ministry of Education during its first four years of operation. These were intended to train schoolheads quickly, as well as a number of supervisors and officials at the district and central ministry levels, in educational administration and financial management skills. Soon, it became evident that the Ministry had to start moving away from responding to emergencies towards strategic planning. A long-term approach in managing the education system was necessary to improve the quality and relevance of education, to achieve cost effectiveness, to make yearly plans realistic and achievable and to impress on donors that proposed projects fit within a well thought-out longer-term vision. Again with Italian funding, a project was launched in October 1998 to help the Ministry in strengthening its capacities in policy formulation and planning and in the formulation of its first five-year medium-term education development plan. This project also included a functional audit at three levels: central ministry, district and school. This audit was deemed necessary in order to formulate rules and regulations to improve the efficiency of the Ministry and to make it ready for a successful and smooth implementation of the educational vision and the Medium-Term Plan.

It took the Ministry and IIEP a year to formulate the first draft of the Plan. Meetings were organized in various districts to discuss the draft with community representatives - parents, political and social activists, leaders, education officials, principals, teachers, students - and officials from other ministries (especially planning, finance, higher education and labour). Modifications were introduced in the draft based on results of these meetings. More than 200 representatives from international and donor agencies and Palestinian academic and social institutions were invited to discuss the modified draft in a Consultation Workshop held in Ramallah, Palestine, in October 1999. The Workshop was also an attempt to link this plan with those of the Ministries of Higher Education and Labour, especially in the area of technical and vocational education and training. The Workshop concluded that the Five-Year Plan was too ambitious, and unrealistic, in trying to address all the immense needs in education in five years. The Ministry would not be able to mobilize the projected funds nor have the necessary implementation capacity.

With technical assistance from IIEP, the Ministry reworked the plan and cut it down to almost one-third of its original estimated development cost. This new projected cost was within the range of yearly funds which the donors and the Authority actually allocated to the Ministry. The process of redrafting the Plan took almost a year. The most difficult and time-consuming task was for the technical staff and planners to convince the Ministry leaders and community representatives that anything more than this pragmatic, down-to-earth and minimum Plan was impossible to implement. If it were not for the skills, capacity and computer simulation models built by IIEP within the Ministry, this policy dialogue and ongoing planning process would not have been as easy or even possible. Consensus on the Plan within Palestinian society was made possible thanks to the systematic approach and the negotiating skills within the Ministry developed during the two-year existence of the project.

This success was also a result of continuity in the leadership within the Ministry and its commitment to the strategic planning and capacity building processes.

In August 2000, the Ministry implemented the recommendations of the functional audit. The central Ministry was restructured in order to properly implement the Five-Year Education Development Plan. A Second international Consultation Workshop was planned for late October 2000 to present the final draft of the Plan to the local and international communities for final approval and donor consensus and, possible, fund pledging. Unfortunately, the current conflict in Palestine has not allowed this Workshop to take place. Development work is simply not possible on a long-term basis in conditions of conflict and crisis.

And the work goes on…

The Ministry of Education and IIEP are waiting for the return to normal in Palestine in order to resume their partnership and the successful development work which was achieved through the project. Meanwhile, time is invested in translating the Plan into annual implementation plans sensitive to the new political realities and the outcomes of the conflict on the ground. Throughout, the capacity of the Ministry planners, officials andpolicy-makers is developed further and put to test every day.