In his workplace at a modern printing press, 21-year-old Moataz Asmar recalls his studies at Hisham Hijjawi College of Technology in Nablus, where he got a degree in design and graphics. “When I chose to study graphics I was not completely sure that I could get many job opportunities,” Moataz said.
After graduation, Moataz was surprised that he did not wait long to get a well-paying job. His experience seems to reflect the general success of vocational and technical education in Palestine.
About a quarter of the Palestinian population is unemployed, with youth unemployment rising to 40 percent at times, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. But that figure might well be worse if not for vocational education. About 70 to 90 percent of the vocational education graduates are finding jobs, some studies have found.
“We believe in the role of vocational education to meet the need of the Palestinian labor market and reduce the growing unemployment rate in our society,” said Osama Eshtayeh, the general director of vocational and technical education in the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education. He explained that the ministry does not work alone. It coordinates with the Ministry of Labor, private-sector institutions, international relief agencies, as well as with numerous other international organizations and donors. (See links to organizations supporting vocational education in Palestine at the end of the article.)
In post-secondary education, 25 community colleges, of which five are technical colleges, provide training in various industrial and commercial disciplines. In two-year degree programs and ones that are shorter, students learn how to make a living in fields such as refrigerating and heating, industrial automation, electric engineering, car mechanics, photography, and graphic design.
Eighteen secondary schools also offer vocational education under the supervision of the ministry, in areas such as agriculture, hospitality, and home economics. The students get early work experience in vocational private training centers, cultural centers, charitable organizations and agricultural and economic development centers.
In 2000, the Ministry of Education outlined a national plan for vocational education to better meet the needs of the labor market. This strategy was reviewed in 2010 to reflect changes in technology. New disciplines were added and opportunities to cooperate with international organizations.
“Most of the graduates [of the programs] come from families with incomes below the poverty line, or with low incomes, with high number of family members and low achievement at schools,” wrote Randa Hilal the senior consultant and director at OPTIMUM for Consultancy and Training in an article about vocational education and training for Palestinian women and youth. In a 2011 study, Hilal found that vocational training has contributed to poverty reduction and poverty prevention for 86 percent of families with a family member who participated in vocational education. Five percent of the graduates said that the vocational training had helped them to make a good enough living that they felt able to start their own families. “For those graduates, [vocational training] is a first choice not a second option,” she said.
The graduates face a difficult economic context. Palestine has ranked 110 out of 182 countries in the human development index, a statistic that blends data on life expectancy, education and income, according to the 2009 Arab Human Development Report. Agriculture is the largest sector of the economy, with some small-scale industries kicking in. Information technology businesses are also growing: In the West Bank alone they contributed $50 million to the Palestinian economy in 2011. The sector is now forecast to grow by 20 percent a year.
According to latest Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the number of graduates of vocational education who could find jobs in the labor market is high compared to the total population. Forty seven percent of male vocational-education graduates and 24 percent of female graduates found employment.
“Vocational education has contributed to women’s access to the labor market by providing new job opportunities that fit with the traditions of the Palestinian society”, said Hilal.
Vocational education still faces multiple challenges. “The first is the occupation,” said Ziad Jweiles, an expert in technical education. “The limitations on mobility, infrastructure and our ability to pool resources present huge logistical problems that make it hard to be cost-effective in a country our size.” Many Palestinians find it either difficult or impossible to get through Israeli checkpoints to reach employment.
On a social level, “technical and vocational education and training suffer from a poor image,” said Eshtayyeh. “Vocational education does not enjoy prestigious social status; most of the parents prefer scientific disciplines such as medicine, engineering or law at the least.”
The general director of vocational and technical education in the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education agrees that many areas need improvement. The development of vocational education has been slowed by the shortage of specialized teachers, he says, and the weakness of the curriculum in some disciplines. He would like to see programs developed more in fields such as intelligent buildings, land management, horticulture and agricultural production, the garment industry, and environmental engineering technology.
Some vocational-education students want to be able to go beyond their initial studies. “I love drawing and handicraft, and my happiness was great to join the applied arts department and get many new skills,” said Nedaa Hamed a graduate from Palestine Technical College – Ramallah for Girls. Nedaa added that her college has supported all graduating students by holding exhibitions in various art galleries. But Nedaa is not happy yet: “I would like to get a bachelor’s degree and complete my studies to get a job in the government sector.”
While Nedaa is looking for steady work, 18-year-old Ahmed Sadek has already passed his high school exam this summer and decided to join vocational education. “I have good grades that allow me to join a regular university, but I preferred to apply to a technical college specializing in auto mechanics,” Ahmed said resolutely. “I would like to have my own auto repair shop in the future.”
Links to the chief organizations supporting vocational education in Palestine:
- Belgian Technical Cooperation – BTC
- The European Training Foundation
- The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)
- The Korea International Cooperation Agency
- The Welfare Association (WA)
- Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET)
- The Islamic Development Bank
- The Institute of International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association (DVV)
Links to vocational and technical colleges and centers in Palestine: