RAMALLAH—In an old school here in the central West Bank, 50-year-old Wassef Farhan is attentively listening to his mathematics teacher.
Farhan is not the only student in the mathematics class. Having dropped out of school for different reasons, about 25 students aged 18 to 50 years are now attending this class in preparation for Thanaweya Amma exams, the standardized tests that determine who is regarded as having graduated from high school.
Palestine has the highest literacy rate among Arab countries. In 2013, the proportion of illiterate Palestinians (above 15 years of age) was 3.7 percent, of which 4 percent live in the West Bank and 3.2 percent in Gaza Strip. Deteriorating economic conditions and the recurrent wars with Israel force many to leave school at an early age.
“About 25 years have passed since I decided to leave school, but I am now pursuing my education thanks to my wife, who inspired me with her experience,” said Farhan. “She studied at home and earned the Thanaweya Amma certificate in addition to a diploma in physiotherapy.”
In spite of his enthusiasm for solving mathematical problems, Farhan has difficulty with English. “I don’t usually understand what the English teacher tries to explain in class,” he says.
This class is part of high-school equivalency program, which seeks to equip Palestinians with social, professional, and technical skills to help them enter the job market and alleviate unemployment.
In Deir al-Balah city in Gaza Strip, the unemployment rate is almost 50 percent.
“I enrolled in the program to pursue my educational career and earn a diploma to help me find a job opportunity,” said Basma Jabareen, a 40-year-old Gaza resident. Jabareen dropped out of school in an early grade to support her family when her mother died. “I can’t describe my happiness that I can now understand English,” she said.
The adult education program has 30,000 graduates, according to the statistics issued by the Ministry of Education, which also said there are 1235 centers offering similar programs.
The Ministry of Education is not alone in this field. Other official and international institutions present similar programs, such as the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Refugees, universities, continuing education centers, private training institutes, international organizations such as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and civil society organizations. Some programs include professional and technical training along with standard secondary education.
Most of these programs last for two years, since most students attend evening classes. Some students, who enroll in high-school equivalency education programs sit for Thanaweya Amma exams. Students enrolled in professional training programs receive certificates signed by the ministry, but they are not recognized in the job market.
Some students believe that such programs needs more development. “There is not enough awareness about these programs,” Basma said. “Hundreds of Palestinians need such programs, but they know nothing about them or might be embarrassed to join them.”
Ghadeer Fenoun, head of irregular education in the Ministry of Education, said that adult education faces several challenges, including absence of a national accreditation framework for the granted certificates, lack of coordination between organizations working in this sector, shortage of funding and support, and the prevalence of stereotypes that the Palestinian educational system is a traditional system which depends only on memorization. That stereotype discourages many adults from pursuing education, she said. Mohammed Al-Motawer, equivalence education program coordinator at Ramallah School for Boys, believes that agricultural and commercial curricula should be added to the program to fulfill job-market needs. “The program should be a real guarantee for students to achieve their expectations and improve their living conditions,” he said.
Recently the Ministry of Education prepared a plan to restructure the adult education sector to try to reduce the overlap among the many organizations that are offering similar programs.
The adult education sector should reflect the Palestinian job-market needs especially with the growing demand of job seekers,” said Samer Salamah, director-general of operations in the ministry of labor in Ramallah, “otherwise all of our efforts would be in vain.”