by Mohammed Arafat
I can remember well when my granddad told my father, when he was 30 years old, “Show me your certificates so society can know you!”
My grandfather said that to my uneducated father when he lost his job as a builder due to the second Palestinian-Israeli catastrophe in 2000. I was just about nine years old, and those words curved the EDUCATION word to my ears and my mind, and it`s still locked in my memory.
My grandfather died and I completed my tertiary education with a bachelor degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language from The Islamic University of Gaza, yet, I’m still unable to find employment.
Yes, apparently I could succeed in achieving what my granddad and father dreamt of, but I couldn’t achieve what I dreamt of myself! Therefore, hopelessly, I say, there is no difference between me and the uneducated people even if I have the English language qualification, but… who cares?? Moreover, a lot of uneducated people got jobs through their crafts, like drivers, waiters at restaurants or cleaners, and they could have a good life with a wife and a home.
Everyone knows that education is that which transforms a person to live a better life and even in a social wellbeing. Education helps a person to show their best with their mind and spirit. It plays a vital role in a person`s success in their personal growth. The more knowledge you have, the more you grow with having a better future and a good job, and then a family, but…. It`s different in Palestine, especially in Gaza.
Life in Gaza changed the definition of education. It was education with its known meaning in the days of my grandfather as he was totally right when he asked my dad about his education, but it`s completely different these days. It`s complicated, but I will try to define it step by step.
What does Education in Palestine look like?
Palestine has been known to be the only country under occupation since 1948. Most of the country was destroyed, including the population, land, and infrastructure and of course the education system.
During the 1948 catastrophe, 70% of Palestine was occupied by Israel, and the people of those lands were forced out to other parts of the world leaving their lovely memories in their farms and under the willow and olive trees to begin new lives in other parts of the world, where today, they still live as refugees.
Some of those refugees left to live in the remaining 30% of Palestine “Gaza and the West Bank”, and they began to have a new life with new education for themselves and their children.
Their life became stable with good traditional education. The educational system was normal and free like most of the third world countries`. Graduates used to graduate from colleges and universities, and then, directly, they could find acceptable jobs so they could continue their lives, until the second catastrophe in 2000.
After 2000, everything changed. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict affected all Palestinians. It weakened the life in Gaza. Education went down and down reaching the lowest level possible. Graduates finished their college and university degrees, finding no jobs, but staying at home like uneducated people, most of whom had jobs doing physical labour earning minimum wages.
Most of those graduates thought of leaving Gaza to other countries so they could find good jobs to form their future, but the crossings were closed. However, the fathers asked their children not to educate themselves, since they realized that degrees means nothing in Gaza, so they advised them to have a craft so they can have a job in social careers, such as builders, painters, carpenters, drivers or even cleaners.
As a result, Gaza reached to a dangerous level, with unemployment in the coastal enclave at the highest in the world. The siege on Gaza has negatively affected all forms of employment, with all the crossings close all the time, and almost nothing and no one coming and going in or out. People had no choice, so they came back to schools hopefully they could graduate and have jobs.
What are the Education struggles in Gaza?
1- In 2008, 2012 and 2014, Gaza had three harrowing killing wars that destroyed a lot of schools, and stopped thousands of students from going to schools. On the other hand, a lot of families, whose homes were destroyed during those wars, stayed at schools which prevented thousands of students from getting an education, and those families are currently still living in those schools.
2- Closure of the crossings prevented hundreds of students from furthering their education for masters and doctorate degrees outside Gaza which made the education process slower and slower.
3- 68% of schools don`t have corridors for people with special needs.
4- 68% of schools don`t have soap in bathrooms for children.
5- 50% of schools don`t have enough sinks.
6- 46% of schools don`t have school gardens.
7- 67% of schools get noise from the militant activities.
8- 67% of schools don`t have air conditioners or fans.
9- 27% of schools don`t have libraries.
10- 33% of schools don`t have science labs.
11- 37% of schools don`t have computer labs.
12- 67% of schools don`t have sport facilities.
13- 95% of schools don`t have medical kits.
So, what is the ideal education in Palestine?
The ideal education for Palestinian students is, merely, to have a simple education! But how? Well, it`s as follows:
1- The Palestinian students need to be assured that they are able to find work after graduating so they can feed their families and start families to continue their lives like everyone else, and this can happen through:
A- Knowing what the most needed specializations and studying fields are so students can know which field to join and which one to avoid. For instance, let`s say that Gaza has twenty labs, and those labs need forty chemistry teachers, but the problem is that the universities in Gaza don`t offer degrees in teaching chemistry, so this is a problem. Therefore, universities need to know what the most needed fields are so that students can know what to study.
B- Opening new places for graduates, like schools, labs and colleges so they can have jobs, and this can`t happen unless:
– Rebuilding the destroyed homes so that people living in schools can go back to their homes.
– Focusing on sponsoring schools, colleges, universities, labs, hospitals, clinics and even kindergartens so graduates can have available careers.
C- Considering education as a priority, and making every student know that the country can`t stand without education.
D- Giving students hopes so they can complete their education without worrying about finding jobs or how to feed their families, and of course that can happen through giving workshops, free courses, previous experience of how other stricken countries could have development after having wars, like Japan.
2- Palestinian-Israeli conflict must stop, and both sides must know that peace is the only way to live. They have to know that we are born to live and then to educate, and then to develop our country, but not to die. This can happen through:
– Showing other countries how much we need peace, and we do deserve life like others.
– Making the international institutions, like the UN and UNESCO, have a look at us and to stop the fights to protect education.
– Separating education from militant and violent activities.
– Protecting the Palestinian education internationally.
– Opening the closed border crossings so students can complete masters and doctorates degrees outside Gaza.
To conclude, I would like to narrate a poem I just wrote about how every student in Gaza feels towards the education model in Palestine.
-I want to sing loudly with my band,
-Palestine without education will never stand,
-We have been dreaming and we want to dream,
-We are born to live, and to have a future with a beam,
-We are tired of killing and fighting,
-Peace is our solution and lighting,
-We are human, and we deserve life,
-We need future with family and a wife,
-We don`t ask for an ideal education,
-But for normal one into our nation,
-Building Palestine, is our aim,
-We don`t need highness or fame,
-Why don`t we learn like others so we can gain?
-Why don`t we live stably and get rid of this pain?
So, I would like to say that the ideal education model in Palestine is the normal EDUCATION in other countries.
~~ Mohammed Arafat ~~