Field Diagnosis: Girls’ Access to Education in Six «  »Area C » » Localities in Bethlehem and Al Khalil

29 novembre 2021 | Report | Anglais

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Introduction

This research is based on a fieldwork conducted during the months of April and May 2018 in six localities in Area C in Bethlehem (Al-Meniah, Al-Rashayida, Kisan) and Al Khalil (Al-Bweeb, Ma’en and Zif). According to the agreements signed with the Israeli side, these areas are controlled by Israeli Authority (« Area C » represents 60% of the West Bank and 297,000 people live there according to the OCHA). The research is part of the pilot mobilization action of gender equality actors conducted by the Psycho-Social Counselling Center for Women (PSCCW). The diagnosis was elaborated by the PSCCW in collaboration with Mrs Laura Adwan, an anthropologist from Bethlehem and Bergen Universities with the assistance of Mrs Safad Radayda in the process of interviewing, field-visits and note-taking. The diagnosis’ elaboration would not have been possible without the support, time and interest of all the students and teachers who have been consulted and have brought forward about surviving the Israeli colonial dispossession and deprivation of their basic right to attend school, a right that students and educators, in other places and times, usually take for granted.

Psycho-Social Counselling Center for Women (PSCCW)

The PSCCW is a non-profit and non-governmental organization established in 1997 by a group of women activists enrolled in the ongoing struggle to enhance women’s position in the Palestinian society on the basis of equality and freedom. Through its membership in different coalitions and networks, the PSCCW is advocating and lobbying for the fulfilment of women’s rights in Palestine. 

The current study is part of a larger program during which the PSCCW staff worked with the most marginalized communities of the occupied Palestinian Territories (oPT), in areas categorized as area C, which are fully controlled by the Israeli colonial authority. Therefore the residents of these communities continue to suffer from the direct control of the Israeli army and settlers who invade the villages, inspect homes, arrest the inhabitants and confiscate the land and water resources. The settlers’ attacks are treated with high degree of impunity although in many cases the perpetrators’ identities are identified. This decreased the possibilities of development for communities whose livelihood depended on agricultural and herding activities, and posed a threat to their existence at the economic, social, political and educational levels, with the obvious aim to force them to leave their villages. 

The PSCCW team had established relationships with the local authorities and community organizations in some of these localities making it easier to reach participants from different ages and diverse experiences; girls who continue their education and others who dropped out of school. 

Earlier observations by the PSCCW team and statistical data on education in the area indicate that girls drop out of school at a young age and are forced into early marriage. To conduct the diagnosis, the PSCCW collaborated with the Bethlehem University to carry out the research based on fieldwork in six villages in Bethlehem and al-Khalil. Some other entities were also involved in the diagnosis (although there are few local institutions and organizations in the target communities, except for one women’s centre which was not really active): the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education, through the two directorates of Education in Bethlehem and Yatta, schools’ staff and students, and active members of the local communities, such as heads of village councils and fathers’ councils[1] (when they exist).

Main Theme and Objectives of the Diagnosis

The main objectives of this diagnosis research are to explore the experiences of girls and women living in six area C communities in their attempts to pursue their school education; and to identify the obstacles they face and the factors leading to girls’ dropout of schools. The final aim is to highlight opportunities and possible concrete actions to be implemented in order to overcome the problems identified and to suggest appropriate recommendations to improve girls’ access to education and eventually create more job opportunities and improve the family living conditions. 

Geographic and Socio-Political Description of the Six Targeted Localities

The research was conducted in six villages that are known to be “communities under threat” according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), where levels of girls’ (and boys) dropout are relatively high. These localities are 1. Al-Rashayida, 2. Kisan, 3. Al-Meniah (in Bethlehem), 4. Zif, 5. Ma’en, 6. Al-Bweeb (in Yatta, al-Khalil). Following is a brief description of each locality, the information presented is collected during the interviews with local authorities at the villages and focus groups conducted with mothers and fathers’ councils in addition to the Villages’ Profiles produced by the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ) in 2009 and 2010.

3.1 ‘Arab ar-Rashayida (or commonly known as Al-Rashayida)

It is located 18.7km south-east of Bethlehem City (See map 1 in the Appendix). The total population according to the 2017 census was 2060[2]. According to the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem, the illiteracy rate in 2007 was about 23.8 percent, of whom 80 percent were females, only 5.8 percent had secondary education, and 1.3 percent completed higher education[3]. There are two public schools run by the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MOEHE) in the village: 1. Al-Rashayida Girls Elementary School with a total number of 184 female students in 2018; 2. Al-Rashayida Mixed High School with a total number of 210 students in 2018 both males and females (the female students are in the 11thand 12th grades only). There is also one kindergarten hosting about 50 kids and two caregivers appointed by the Palestinian Authority (PA). During the field visits in April and May, many of the kindergarten’s kids and schools’ students were absent, as they had already moved to the northern areas of the Jordan Valley to accompany their families in their agricultural activities.

3.2 Kisan

It is located 11km south of Bethlehem city (See map 2 in the Appendix). The total population of Kisan was estimated by the 2017 census to be 560[4], whereas local community representatives insisted that the number is 900 at least.[5] Kisan residents suffer from the effects of the waste landfill in the eastern side of the village, while in the western side the Israeli authority established a polluting stone crusher for crushing fractions coming from the building waste and debris of the Israeli settlements, in addition to the Israeli settlements blocking the other two sides of the village. In regards to education, there is only one public school; Kisan Mixed Elementary School with a total number of 142 students (67 females and 75 males)[6]. After the 10th grade (see section B.1.4 on the educational system), students who desire to continue their education have to walk till the town of Tuqu’ (about 5 km). 

3.3 Al-Meniah

It is located 8.6 km (horizontal distance) south-east of Bethlehem City (See map 3 in the Appendix). The total population was estimated in the 2017 census to amount to 1346, although the community members and local authority representatives insisted that the number is much higher (approximately 2500). The majority of Al-Meniah inhabitants work in the agricultural sector, in addition to rearing sheep and goats. The numbers of workers who receive daily wages in Israel or in the stone and marble workshops or regular salaries in the Palestinian government are limited and in continuous decline. 

Concerning the situation of education, there are two schools in the village. One is Al-Meniah Mixed School (200 students: 120 females and 80 males) which is located on the main bypass road leading to the Israeli settlement and therefore both students and teachers face troubles in reaching the school and crossing the road which is often unsafe. The second one is Al-Meniah Mixed Elementary School (150 students), which is located in a safer area, away from the main road, however, there is no proper building or playground, and students study in a rented building and two caravans donated by Al-Meniah waste landfill. Another problem is that there is no kindergarten to serve the children of the community. 

3.4 Zif

It is located in the Yatta area, 7 km south-east of al-Khalil city. The total population according to the 2007 census is 1061[7]. Zif is another village in addition to Kisan that is subject to high rate of attacks by the Israeli settlers and soldiers mainly due to its proximity to an Israeli settlement and a military base and the bypass road that divides the village into two parts. It is impossible to obtain building permits and the Israeli military authorities issued demolishing orders for most structures including residents’ houses, the mosque, and Zif Mixed School. Zif’s inhabitants depend on agriculture in addition to working in the Israeli labour market, however the number of working permits are in constant decrease leading to the rise of unemployment rates. In addition, several families rely on livestock rearing and dairy production. 

There are two schools in Zif village: Zif Elementary school which used to be the only educational institution in Zif until the opening of Zif Girls’ Basic School in 2015, thanks to the active members of Zif fathers’ council who preferred to establish a separate school for the girls of their community. The entire school is made of caravans because of the Israeli restrictions on the construction activities in the village; the school itself received a demolition order one year after its establishment. 

3.5 Al-Bweeb

It is located about 10 km south east of al-Khalil in Yatta area (see Map 5, in the Appendix). The population of Al Buweib is approximately 734 according to the Palestine Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS, 2018). The majority of Al-Bweeb residents depend on agricultural and herding activities to secure their livelihoods, and due to restrictions imposed by the Israeli armed forces, the owners of cattle move to Al-Rashayida or other areas appropriate for grazing, in addition to working in Israel. There is one mixed school in Al-Bweeb: Al-Bweeb Elementary Mixed School which offers 10 classes (from 1st grade till 10th grade) in addition to a kindergarten established by the MOEHE. After completing the 10th grade, the students who continue their education in the 11th and 12th grades have to travel 8 km to attend classes at Al-Ruq’aa village.

3.6 Ma’en

It is located 14 km south of al-Khalil to the southeast of Yatta (see map 6 in the Appendix). Ma’en community is administered by Al-Karmel municipality whose population amount to 9740[8], while Ma’en’s residents reach almost 1500 according to a representative of Al-Karmel municipality interviewed on 23 April 2018. The residents depend mainly on the Israeli labor market, despite the vast area of agricultural land. Until recently there were no educational services in Ma’en and students were forced to go to acquire elementary and secondary education in Al-Karmel village. In 2006, a project was initiated by active residents in the locality aiming to build a school for their community, and in 2011, an elementary school (for boys and girls) was opened in a rented building: “Ma’in Co-ed Elementary School” which still lacks toilet facilities, a playground and fencing, in addition to the high level of noise in classes leading to difficulties in concentration among students. After completing the 9th grade, and for some girls after the 7th grade, they move to study in Al Karmel Girls’ School.  

Methodology and Data Collection Tools

To achieve the research objectives, qualitative methods of research have been utilized. The main tools for data collection included semi-structured one-to-one interviews and focus groups which allow deeper understanding of the complex experiences of these girls with schooling in addition to the potential of relating the girls’ experiences to the interests of other social agents involved such as families, school principals, teachers, local authorities including Directorates of Education in Bethlehem and Yatta and community organizations when applicable.

In the period April-June 2018, 30 interviews and 14 focus groups (FG) with parents and students were conducted in the six localities. Most interviews and FGs were conducted at local schools, and few in participants’ homes, village councils and the directorate of education offices in Bethlehem and Yatta. 

One-to-one interviews were conducted with active members in the local community: heads of village councils (as available), members of fathers’ councils, head of women’s centre (only existed in one locality: Al-Rashayida). In addition, the researcher and PSCCW member visited all the schools in the six localities, and interviewed the principal, some school teachers, education counsellors (when available), students from 8th and 10th grades and secondary grades (11th and 12th). School girls were asked to describe the problems they face at school and in their studies and life in general including their future plans. Other participants including educators and community representatives were asked about their roles in improving schooling conditions for students in general and for girls in particular, the restrictions and obstacles they face, practical intervention programs to overcome these obstacles and examples of successful practice(s) in enhancing girls’ access to education in the targeted communities.

To ensure consistency, interview guides detailing the main themes and questions for each group were prepared. The main researcher led the interviewing and questioning, together with a PSCCW staff member.

Taking into consideration the sensitivity of this kind of research which involve girls and adolescents in conflict zones and relatively conservative communities, ethics was emphasized by confirming that no real names or pictures that could identify the research participants would be used. In most cases, female students refused to be photographed, and the school staff warned the research team about taking pictures of the school with girls in them, due to previous incidents when parents objected fiercely to publishing pictures depicting their girls in school activities and threatened to stop sending them to school. 

Key Concepts and Terms

Area C: According to Oslo agreements I and II signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Government of Israel in 1994-1995, the West Bank was divided into several areas: Area A where the PA is responsible for the administrative and security issues, Area B where administrative issues are under the PA’s responsibility and security matters are under the Israeli control, and Area C where security and administrative sovereignty is under Israeli control. This practically means that area C which constitutes over 60 percent of the West Bank is under the Israeli full and exclusive control over law enforcement, planning and construction[9]. The provision of aid and services in Area C faces a range of difficulties as described in the news reports of the international organizations and NGOs working there, these include demolition and confiscation of goods by the Israeli authorities.

Child marriage: It is defined as a formal marriage or informal union before 18 (Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child establishes that a child is a human being under the age of 18). Despite the State of Palestine’s ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2014 with no reservations, which both protect children from marriage, child marriage remains widespread for children, in particular girls who are disproportionately the most affected. According to PCBS data from 2014, two out of every ten women aged 20-49 were married before the age of 18 in the West Bank and this number increases to three out of ten women for the Gaza Strip. A 2014 Area C Gender/Household Survey by Birzeit University shows the highest prevalence of childmarriage is in the Jordan Valley (38 percent) followed by the southern part of the West Bank (35 percent). Data collected by several NGOs and Un Agencies show that policies imposed by the Israeli Government causing insecurity as well as the limited economic opportunities, movement restrictions, restrictions on access to education and violence in Area C and East Jerusalem have exacerbated child marriage.

Regarding the legal framework, marriage in Palestine is governed by the Personal Status Code interpreted by the Family Courts. In the West Bank, the Jordanian Personal Status Law No 61 of the year 1976 is in force, and in the Gaza Strip it is the Egyptian Family Rights Law issued in 1954. If a male guardian requests the marriage a family law judge can approve it for a girl from 14.5 years in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip from 14 years. In most cases the girl herself is under strong family pressure and does not have the freedom to object or consent to the marriage. Palestine’s personal status code is outdated and women’s human rights activists have been advocating for many years for the review of the personal status code as it relates to marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance.[10]

School dropout: According to the Palestinian Law for Education and Higher Education ratified by the PA on 6 April 2017, a dropout student is defined as a student who withdraws from school and does not return without having a transfer certificate according to the instructions of the Ministry[11], before completing all formal education stages. In addition, the law imposes penalties on a parent who refrains from enrolling or withdraws his/her child (male or female) while under the age of 16 years form school. The penalties are maximum one year of imprisonment or a financial fine of 1000 Jordan dinars (approximately 1200 euro) or its equivalence of the currency in use. This penalty also applies to any person who forbids enrollment of child under the age of 16 years or negatively affects his/her enrollment at any educational institution. It is worth mentioning that during the field research no legal action was taken or penalties were imposed in case of drop-out cases in the six localities.

Main Findings and Analysis of the Situation of Girls’ Education and Dropout Levels

Main Factors Affecting Educational Levels in the Six Localities

This section presents the main findings during the fieldwork conducted in the six communities. The six communities share common characteristics experienced by area C inhabitants in general. The socio-economic conditions of the families in these localities are generally similar in terms of restricted access to resources imposed by the Israeli military and settlers. The opening of schools in these communities did not start until the late sixties. The majority started as primary schools from the 1st till 6th grade, where the MOEHE could provide “education in emergencies”[12] in cooperation with local, regional and international organizations. 

The communities residing in area C experience severe lack of services and institutions, considering that more than 94 percent of permit applications requested by Palestinians for construction in Area C were rejected by the Israeli authorities between 2000 and 2012[13]. This resulted into serious lack of adequate education services. One of the main complaints expressed by both educators and parents is the lack of kindergartens in four of the six targeted villages. Only a small number of children in Al-Rashayida and Al-Bweeb had limited access to kindergartens. 

When it comes to the school building structures, with the exception of Al-Rashayida and Al-Bweeb, the school buildings are not well structured and some of the classrooms are caravans as in the case of Al-Meniah Elementary Mixed School, or in other worse conditions, shipping containers are turned into classrooms like in the case of Kisan’s Elementary Mixed School. On the other hand, the Girls’ school in Zif which was officially opened by the MOEHE on 10 May 2018 is entirely made of caravans. As explained in section A.3 of this report, families in the six localities suffer from the ongoing Israeli colonial expansion and dispossession practices that affect their livelihood opportunities. Traditionally cattle herding and partially agriculture used to constitute the most important income source for these families. The majority of inhabitants’ lands were confiscated to build settlements and establish projects that further affected their socio-economic conditions and children’s education, however the levels of direct threats and risks varied among the six communities.  

For example, Kisan and Al-Rashayida, are two localities categorized as Area C in Bethlehem area but each locality reflects the specificity of the limits imposed on obtaining proper school education as a result of the political, social, legal and economic factors affecting the living conditions of the inhabitants of both communities.  

The village of Kisan is surrounded from the four sides: from the east stands a huge waste landfill, and in the western side there is a polluting stone crusher for crushing fractions of Israeli settlements’ building waste and debris, in addition to the Israeli settlements from the other two sides. The school is composed of 3 parts: the original building which is made of four small rooms that were initially constructed in the 1990s (to serve as a kindergarten), a rented building which the school administration are asked to evacuate in the coming year (2019) and two shipping containers turned into classrooms. Kisan’s girls go to this school from the first till the tenth grade, those who are willing and able to complete their education will have to commute daily to the school in the town of Tuqu’ to complete 11th and 12th grades. 

The teachers interviewed during fieldwork explained that only few students are interested in completing their school education, while the majority lack the incentive or motivation to learn. The inadequate school conditions are presented as being part of the problems which affect the level of concentration and lead to poor academic performance: tiny classrooms, poor lighting and ventilation, high level of noise and lack of a playground add to the already existing troubles. The inhabitants dedicated a piece of land to construct a new “proper” school for their children, however the Israeli authorities did not agree to give them a construction permit, and it is unlikely to obtain one considering that many of the houses in Kisan village had received demolition orders, therefore building a new structure without permit is vulnerable to demolition. 

Students mentioned other difficulties: the distance of school, lack of transportation, family problems and fights between relatives, early marriages in addition to low achievement as reasons of dropout: 

After the tenth grade, I will quit school because my achievements are low, I find difficulties in English, science and math, my eldest sister also left school because our parents can’t afford to pay for our transportation to reach the school in Tuqu’, the school is too far and my father does not want me or my sister to wait at the check-point and walk like our cousins for 5 km to reach school”.  (8th grade student, Kisan) 

When it comes to the neighboring village of Al-Rashayida, the conditions of education seem better at least in terms of school facilities and study environment, however the levels of student absence and dropouts are still high due to the economic conditions. 

Effects of the Economic Conditions on Absences and Dropouts

The primary cause of dropouts cited by various educational players we met in Al-Rashayida was economic, specifically related to the community’s style of living. Families who rely on agricultural and herding activities for living usually leave their permanent houses in Al-Rashayida in the beginning of April to work for a period ranging from 2-4 months in the northern villages of Al-Fara’a and Tamra.

The interviews with schools’ principals, teachers, mothers and students provide extensive data which explain the phenomenon of school absence and eventually dropout in Kisan, Al-Rashayida and the other four localities. As the lists of students’ numbers at schools indicate, the enrolment gap between the tenth grade and earlier grades shows high dropout rates, regardless of gender (For example, in one of the schools the class numbers were 30 in 1st grade, about 20 in 2nd-6th grades, to drop to 11 students only from 7th– 10th grades). This phenomenon was noticed in most of the schools visited for the purpose of the current study.  

In addition, absence from classes and low achievements are another two major problems that educators are forced to handle. For example, the principal of Kisan Mixed School explained that the students’ absence level is normal in the first six grades, it usually increases after the sixth grade in the period from 25 Feb- 25 March and sometimes it extends till May for the akoub picking season:[14]

The Akoub season offers a good chance for students to generate some revenue to cover their school expenses, such as the costs of cloths stationary and sometimes to pay for the school trip. We heard from a school girl that one of her brothers could collect enough money to buy a smartphone with internet access. ”[15]

The school principals and teachers in the six targeted areas seemed to be aware of the effects of absence, however, some of them were more proactive than others in developing programs and activities to reduce absences and prevent school dropouts. In their attempts to deal with the problem of school absence, the educators at Al-Rashayida Mixed School initiated series of activities targeting their pupils in the elementary stage to change their attitudes and their parents’ attitudes concerning the importance of regular attendance at school.

In the absence of the professional intervention by education counsellors to combat absence, the principal and teachers shared the burden to convince students who were frequently absent to attend classes regularly. They visited those pupils at home and talked to their parents. In addition they organized extracurricular activities in which they involved students to discuss the effects of their absence with teachers and organized contests and prizes to reward students who managed to avoid further absences, when possible. 

In communities relying on agricultural and herding activities, all family members, including children, had an important role in securing the family survival. In the cases of Al-Rashayida and Al-Bweeb, girls complained that the time they can allocate for homework, school projects and studying for exams is limited, because caring for the sheep and goats requires long time and efforts: 

I belong to a large family of 17 and I and one of my brothers only completed our education, some of my brothers were also strong at school but my family insisted that they should leave school to assist in herding and diary production activities”. (Interview with a female teacher at Al-Rashayida Girls’ Elementary School)

Similarly, at Al-Bweeb Mixed School, most of the students reported that they have to assist with sheep grazing and caring in the months of March and April. The school principal explained how he and the teachers managed to find creative ways to convince a father of three daughters at school, to take each one of his daughters, in turns, to assist in the household agricultural activities so that the burden of absence would be shared by the three sisters and they would avoid excessive absences: 

In this way, one day his daughter in the 6th grade would be absent from school to assist her family, the next day, his daughter in the 7th grade would assist, etc. We try to find practical means to convince parents to leave their children at school, especially when there are no better alternatives and considering the high levels of absence among the students of this community. During the months of March and April, from 210 students approximately 50 don’t attend classes to assist their families in caring for the sheep and goats”. (Interview with principal of Al-Bweeb Mixed School) 

The principals of the two schools in Al-Rashayida stated that several girls and boys left with their families to the North as they do every year during the cucumbers season. Very few students would use the option of certificate transfer to attend classes in the nearest school in the North where they temporarily move to work.

The teachers indicated that “usually students don’t come back to avoid repeating the school year again, while others returned to school the following year and had to face difficulties in comprehending the new lessons after being absent from school for one month or more”.

Another important aspect is that education is not perceived by the majority in these communities as a means of economic survival since the harsh times students face in their attempts to complete their education and obtain a university degree were seldom rewarded by a job that is much needed. This applies to both male and female graduates.

The harsh economic conditions resulting from lack of regular salaries for the main household breadwinners, forced some students to leave school. One of the girls in Ma’en village, the locality in which the highest levels of poverty have been observed, said that her sister had to leave school when her mother could not afford to buy her new shoes, clothes and the stationary she needed. She expressed how bad she felt when her mother could not secure the costs of the school trip. 

Lack of resources, as she expressed, many times drove her to think to leave school especially that she expects to face more financial difficulties when she moves next year to Al-Karmel public school. Despite the fact that students do not have to pay study fees, many students whose families depend on the irregular financial aid provided by the Ministry of Social Affairs face difficulties in securing their basic needs of clothes, stationary and other materials linked to school activities. 

Moreover, the social security systems do not provide care services for the elderly and disabled and many times girls are forced to leave school to take care of a disabled sibling or sick adult in the family.  

The effects of deteriorating economic situation are not restricted to the present, students and their parents often mentioned the increasing rate of unemployment among university graduates and lack of job opportunities as additional reasons for lack of interest and incentives among the new generation to continue secondary and university education: 

Four of my daughters are university graduates, they can’t find a job, this is the reason why people turn away from education. I paid high price to offer my girls university education and look at them now: they are all unemployed housewives”. (Interview with a member of the fathers’ council in Zif)

The above discussion presents the challenges involved in addressing the dropout problem for students, their parents and educators. 

Effects of the Political Situation on School Attendance and Dropout Rates

Several research studies and international organizations reports refer to attacks committed by Israeli occupation army and settlers on the Palestinian education system[16].

The political context in Area C affects the communities at various levels. The high levels of risk and danger experienced by the members of some communities including their children led to the disruption of the educational process, particularly among females whose parents fear the dangers of travel and soldiers’ harassment at military checkpoints. For example, students and teachers at Al-Meniah Mixed School were subjected to several attacks by the Israeli army and settlers because of the school’s location on the main bypass road near a settlement and a military checkpoint. In one incident reported by a teacher, Israeli settlers supported by armed soldiers attacked the students and teaching staff. Some students retaliated by throwing stones at the attackers. The soldiers raided the houses of a number of students at night and arrested 19 students, none of them returned to school. One of the mothers whose 14-year-old son was among the arrested students and spent 5 months in prison, explained how after her son’s release from prison she failed to convince him to return to school.  

The level of direct attacks by Israeli army and settlers are higher in some communities, where restrictions on movement and construction are also higher, with the aim to force the Palestinian inhabitants to leave. One example is the case of Zif. In 2001 the Israeli military authorities demolished several houses, as described by a member of the fathers’ council: 

It is impossible to obtain building permits, we are not allowed to construct on our lands. Since 2001, the inhabitants in Zif avoided building new structures. Can you imagine that my brother put all the money he saved during 20 years of hard work to build his family house only to see it demolished in seconds! The absence of construction permits pushes some younger couples to move to another area, this is exactly what the Israelis planned to achieve.”  

Zif parents and teachers reported higher levels of settlers’ attacks on students on their way to and from school. Another incident was mentioned from the year 2001 when a group of settlers put explosives inside Zif Elementary School leading to the injury of seven students. Later, the settlers put explosives inside Zif’s mosque as an attempt to force the community to evacuate. 

In most of the localities, students reported house raids by soldiers and settlers at night. Attacks against school students and teachers are more intensive in some localities such as in the case of Al-Meniah, Zif and Ma’en. Because of the proximity of Al-Meniah mixed school to the main road, students and teachers face troubles in crossing the road to reach their school:

One of our students was hit by a settler’s car, this forced the school administrators and teachers to secure safe students’ crossing of the main street. We have to observe the street crossing process by demanding from the students to wait until all cars pass, then we walk with the students to cross to the other side of the street. Many times, teachers are attacked by the Israeli settlers who do not hesitate to point their guns and pistols at teachers and students, some parents reacted to these attacks by keeping their sons and daughters at home, they stopped sending them to school” (Interview with a teacher at Al-Meniah Girls’ School).

The Palestinian Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs revealed that Israeli mass arrests against Palestinians increased dramatically in December 2017, noting that 95 percent of the new prisoners are youths. Most detained Palestinian children are students who are denied the right to education. Studies concerning ex-detainee children indicate that a large number of child prisoners do not return to school[17].

Social Factors Related to School Dropout

Family in the Palestinian context has resumed playing the main role in socialization and economic support, in the absence of other strong state institutions. Most girls are members of large households. In the case of study here, the majority of the parents did not complete their school education, as indicated by the female students who took part in this research and the parents we met during focus group discussions. 

In the focus group discussions with the mothers at various localities, it appeared that they were all housewives. They said that most women in their village are housewives too. The only employed women are the few teachers of the schools. The majority of graduates studied at al-Quds Open University and fewer at Hebron University. They were all married below twenty and cited early marriage, poor economic conditions, polygamy and family problems, and low achievements at school in addition to the society perception about women’s education as the reasons for not completing their education.

Family problems and fights among relatives were mentioned by many of the girls as one of their largest concerns. The education counsellor at Al-Karmel School presented several incidents that illustrate how social and family problems affected the girls’ psychological health and ability to study, including cases when girls were forced to leave school as a result of family disputes and fights. That is why she organized an intervention program to address girls’ dropouts under the slogan: “Don’t involve me in your conflicts”. 

The program included lectures, workshops and the distribution of leaflets narrating a short story based on a real story that happened to one of the school female students who was forced by her father to leave school following a fight with his relatives. All the efforts exerted by the education counselor, the school principal and teachers to convince the father to allow his daughter, who was one of the top students in her class, to return to school failed. The father claimed that his daughter got what she needs from school; i.e. the ability to read and write and that he wanted to protect his daughter from any revenge attempts that might target the family honor (or the females of the family). A similar attitude was expressed by parents and female students who, when asked about the importance of education, explained that it would enable them to assist their children in their studies and did not focus on their own developmental or career needs. 

The PCBS data for the year 2016-2017, indicated that female enrollment in high school was 80.4% compared to a lower male enrollment which was 60.5%. Despite this, female participation rate in the labor force is still much lower than the corresponding male participation rate: 19% compared to 71% in 2017 respectively[18]. This indicates that education alone does not play the role it is expected to play in the social and economic mobility. Previous researchers attribute this to the cultural or traditional aspects of the Palestinian society where women’s roles of motherhood and household management are considered more important than her work and career.[19]

However despite the hindering factors experienced by female students, there are cases in which female students insisted on continuing their school and university education despite all the challenges and obstacles in the social, political and economic environment. Najah’s story presents one strong example of resilience in her attempts to continue her education. Following the death of her father, her mother became the sole provider for the family income and the family relies on irregular social security aid. The following excerpt illustrates Najah’s persistence to finish her higher education:

No Bedouin girl from my family/tribe in this locality was allowed to study at university. I love school and education and always got the highest grades in class. However, I had difficult time while preparing for the Tawjihi (Secondary High School) exam because everyone used to remind me that there is no point in passing the exam since I won’t be allowed to go to university. This is why my Tawjihi’s grade was lower than my previous grades: 89,9%. Thanks to my mother’s support I managed to register at university. My brother who had to respect the tribe’s culture rejected the idea in the beginning, I insisted and contacted the head of the village council who tried to convince my brother to accept my enrollment at university and postpone my marriage until I finish my BA. 

Finally my brother agreed only on condition that I will not go to the university alone, so my mother who always supported me would accompany me every time I go to the university. I study at Al Quds Open University and attendance of lectures is optional but I have to go to sit for the exams. My mother must accompany me. When I have an exam session in the afternoon, we leave at 7 a.m when public service buses move from our village to Bethlehem. My mother sits and waits until I finish around 3 p.m. I did well in the first two years and managed to pass with honors and therefore got exempted from the study fees”. 

Najah’s success can be attributed to the unconditional support of her mother and the assistance of the head of the village council. In addition, her persistence and motivation are important factors leading to her success and the success of other girls in her tribe who perceived Najah’s struggle and success as a chance for them to go to university. This was another incentive for Najah to succeed in her studies and find a good job: to open the currently closed door for other female students from her tribe to complete their higher education. 

Through the research, it appeared that the small number of female students who completed their higher education in the six researched localities come from the literary (Arts) stream in High School, although some girls were hoping to continue in the scientific stream to get wider options in university education and later in the job market. All the female graduates, with few exceptions, studied in Al Quds Open University, by distance learning, where fees are lower and class attendance is optional. Thus, the topics they could study are limited, and most female graduates who were interviewed during the study were trained to become school teachers. In these conditions, they are less capable to compete for jobs in the (limited) Palestinian job market with graduates from other universities like Bethlehem, Hebron, Birzeit, Al-Quds (Abu-Dis) and An-Najah, who have better opportunity to attend classes and study various topics.

Institutional Factors

The Palestinian school education is divided into two stages: Basic compulsory education for children 6-15 years i.e. grades 1 to 10, and a two-year secondary school which covers grades 11 and 12. Some children enroll earlier at 4-5 years, in pre-school education at kindergartens. Currently there are three providers of school education in the West Bank and Gaza: government schools which are part of the public sector run by the MOEHE, schools managed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and private sector schools.

Institutional reasons for students’ dropouts include lack of adequate resources to provide inclusive education policies[20]. One obvious problem is that all schools, except one school we visited in Yatta’s directorate of education, had no education counsellor to observe difficulties in students’ academic achievements and identify the problems that might lead to excessive absence and dropout. According to the principal of Al-Meniah Mixed Elementary School, the presence of relatively high number of students who missed lots of lessons and eventually lost the ability to concentrate in class, would lead to an increase in the dropout percentage. 

The common practice of automatically upgrading students helped some of the students to continue their education with their classmates despite of their weak performance in exams. Teachers and principals explained the procedures used to follow up cases of students’ dropout as per the following steps: Students’ attendance record is completed daily, if a student is absent for one week, the school principal (or education counsellor when available) would contact the parents to investigate the issue. Frequent absences also lead to low achievements and weak performance, as explained by one student: 

I face difficulties in math, because I am the eldest daughter in my family and sometimes I have to stay at home to help my mother with the house-work. I miss lots of lessons, the teacher can’t repeat the lessons especially for me, and therefore, I ask my friends and classmates during break times, and my cousin sometimes because she is educated. I can bridge the gaps in the topics that need memorization but not in math or English.” (interview with a 10th grade female student, Zif) 

Analysis of the Findings Within the Wider Palestinian Context

Since 1967, Palestinian children have been subjected to military restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation that cover all aspects of Palestinian life, including education and academic freedom[21]. The education system in historical Palestine was controlled by non-Palestinian authorities (the Ottomans, the British and then the Israelis for the occupied area in 1948, Jordanians for the West Bank and the Egyptians for Gaza). Between 1967 and 1993, following Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the Israeli military excised from school textbooks references to Palestinian national history and identity, and geographic terms that referred to Palestine were also removed[22].

Historically, the Palestinian education system- which was mandated by foreign authorities- was neither envisioned nor designed to support the development of “educated” persons in the full sense of the term. Whether British, Egyptian, Jordanian, or Israeli, each of these powers adopted an ad hoc approach to education guided by foreign curricula and fiscal policies which did not coincide with Palestinian interests in developing an independent education system or improving the quality of education[23]. Only in 1994, the PA assumed responsibility for the sphere of education in accordance with the Oslo Political agreements. Educational responsibilities were transferred to the Palestinian Ministry of Education (PMoE) currently MOEHE, however, Palestinian statelessness and Israeli colonization persisted, trickling into the most mundane daily aspects of Palestinian life. 

Attacks on schools and the systematic harassment and abuse of children and teachers by Israeli soldiers and settlers are particularly prevalent in Area C, H2 (Hebron area under Israely military control) and East Jerusalem. According to the Ma’en Development Center they generate great psychological distress, anxiety, helplessness and severely diminishing levels of educational attainment. Officially, PA institutions are not supposed to serve in Area C. This resulted into lack of essential services. For most of the communities, electricity was a new comer; in Al-Rashayida for example, electricity was introduced in 2009.

PA Educational Policies and Regional and International Agendas

Education is considered, both locally and globally, as an important factor in enhancing a person’s opportunities in social and economic mobility. However, in low- and middle-income countries, leaving school early remains a problem; poverty and female gender, linked to patriarchy, are often considered as leading to poor educational outcome[24].

In the case of study here, war and colonial oppressive policies are additional factors leading to poor educational achievements and dropouts[25]. The topic — conflict, war and their effects on children’s lives and educational and social integration— is both timely and important not only in Palestine but in the region in general.

In the Palestinian context, education was viewed, for decades, as a form of coping strategy and resisting marginalization by Palestinians, particularly among refugees in UNRWA camps. But the political crisis in oPt and the economic depression [and political unrest] in the region had reduced the significance of education as a strategy of coping and resisting marginalization. Moreover, the unstable and difficult conditions explain that poor educational outcomes are not restricted to female students only but as per the data collected in the six localities, male students’ rates of dropout in secondary education are even higher.

Over a third of the residential areas in Area C (189 out of 532) lack a primary school and children are forced to travel long distances, sometimes on foot, to reach the nearest school. Families often adopt what is called in organizational literature “negative coping mechanisms, including withdrawing children from school”. The total dropout rate in Palestine (1.2% among males vs. 0.8% among females[26]), is relatively low when compared with other parts of the World: 9.8% among males vs. 7.7% among females[27]. This can be linked to the fact that international agents have placed a strong emphasis on promoting gender equality in education, by guaranteeing equal access to good quality education and promoting women’s education and training in scientific and technical universities and similar institutions, introducing life-long learning programs for women and career development opportunities for women and girls; and by supporting the recruitment, retention and advancement of women and girls in science, technology and innovation[28]. However, these low dropout rates among the general Palestinian school-age population do not reflect the negative conditions of education in the target localities in Area C, where the communities are excluded and marginalized when compared to provision of services in other nearby areas.

Barriers and Challenges

Main Obstacles to Improving the Current Situation

Obstacles related to the political conditions can be summarized in the following main points: the Israeli total control of Area C which prevents Palestinians to access their lands or build in the vast majority of area C; Lack of security and certainty due to the continual threats imposed by Israeli army and settlers’ violence against inhabitants and their properties; High risks resulting from demolition orders against Palestinian infrastructures in the area such as schools, houses and paved roads and lack of proper and safe access to roads and public transportation. 

Regarding the effects of economic conditions on education, the main obstacles include the increase of poverty rates due to Israeli restrictions on access to resources and the high levels of unemployment.

Other obstacles that hinder education advancement are related to institutional regulations when it comes to educators’ attitudes expressed by teachers towards their students’ capabilities of learning and the system of automatic promotion. High rates of absences from school and lack of parents’ care to supervise their children’s study at home were mentioned as common causes for low academic achievements among students in these communities.

In the absence of regular programs sponsored by the MOEHE for enhancing the skills of weak or failing students, as currently these programs are offered by specialized private schools and NGOs and therefore are limited in terms of size and geographical access, students who are automatically promoted to the following grade have little chance to advance in their education and they continue to struggle with low achievement. In addition to the lack of kindergartens and education counselors. 

Students, parents and educators expressed feelings of marginalization as a result of the lack of adequate services in the communities. These feelings of neglect result from the lack of adequate services and the unmet needs of the communities due to restrictions imposed by Israeli colonial rule of the areas. However, several possibilities to serve the members of these communities by the PA and other active organizations in Area C were missed such as the opening of kindergartens, appointment of educational counsellors, securing enough school buses and teaching staff.

Interventions Taken by the Key Actors in the Targeted Communities and Other Regional and International Players to Improve the Conditions of Education

a. One of the positive interventions observed during our field visits are the principals’ and teachers’ efforts to control students’ dropout. To achieve this, educators worked on increasing students’ participation in extracurricular activities. One good example comes from Al-Rashayida Mixed School where the principal and teachers held a week of activities to address pupils’ absences and dropouts, another example comes from Al-Karmel school which has implemented the programme “Don’t involve me in your conflicts”.

b. The MOEHE initiative to provide school buses helped reduce the levels of threat on bypass roads and minimize absences.

c. The collaborative intervention initiated by the local community in the village of Zif between the fathers’ council[29] and the village council to construct a school made of caravans for the girls’ community presents a positive example of the role of local community members in effectively responding to the community needs. This initiative helped reduce girls’ dropout rates after the sixth grade because parents did not like their girls to study in mixed classes.

d. Teachers also mentioned the positive effect of the regulation that permits married girls to continue their education which helped decrease the dropout rates among female students in areas where early marriages prevail.

Opportunities and Recommendations of Actions to Be Implemented to Overcome the Problems Identified During the Current Diagnosis

The problems faced by local communities in area C seem insurmountable because of the Israeli full control of the lands and resources, however the following recommendations are presented as attempts to increase the survival potential of these communities, particularly in relation to education.

Some direct actions that could enhance improvement in education include: 

  1. Set up school buses with better and more regular maintenance service. One practical recommendation is to appoint a driver from the local community who is familiar with the locality. This will open few job opportunities for members of local communities. 
  2. Open kindergartens under the supervision of the MOEHE.
  3. Provide professional social and psychological support for both families and students. It is urgent to allocate more education counsellors at schools and arrange for additional intervention initiatives to address the needs of both students and their families. 
  4. Provide customized programs and activities that allow wider students’ participation in extracurricular activities. 
  5. Conduct further research on the potential for local universities’ contributions in advancing education in nearby Area C communities with the aim of improving these students’ opportunities to reach higher quality of university education that will allow them to compete in a limited job market. 
  6. Increase the numbers of job positions occupied by members of local communities. Considering the high demands of the employment market and the lack of adequate training opportunities for the graduates from these communities, positive discrimination could serve as a good temporary solution to allow graduates to find job opportunities at schools and health clinics in the areas. To secure adequate level of competencies, graduates from the localities could be invited to participate in training events organized by the MOEHE and other international and local services’ providers. 
  7. Credit and reward teachers and principals who strive to create effective initiatives and exert extra efforts to provide better education opportunities in harsh conditions, and disseminate information on positive and creative initiatives. It is important to pay careful attention to avoid additional marginalization of community members and other key players by encouraging members from the local community, both male and female, to join in the planning stages and assist them in the implementation of suggested initiatives. 

Following are additional ideas and recommendations that would require more resources in terms of time, funds and thinking: 

  • To address the low achievement problem, it is important to adopt more inclusive education programs that would reintegrate dropout students in the schooling system[30]. This requires the involvement of educational experts to promote more engaging attitudes in teaching and encourage students with low achievements to work through more inclusive tactics. Considering that classes in the six targeted communities are relatively small in size, this might offer a chance for spending part of the lesson to address knowledge gaps through remedial exercises. To increase students’ achievement, remedial and supplemental academic services should be offered to students. Parents should be informed of these efforts to tackle their children’s underachievement, as well as, encouraged to take more responsible actions to control their children’s absences.
  • It is also important to extend students’ future chances to get financial assistance to study different specializations at universities. Currently university education is often limited to Al Quds Open University Programs in Yatta and Bethlehem.
  • Social change is a process that requires long time and hard efforts and above all convincing reasons among the targeted groups that this change will serve their needs in a better way, therefore it is important to discuss school dropout prevention programs with the intended students and their parents and develop appropriate activities that focus on the students and their communities needs and realities. One good example from a locality in the northern part of the West Bank is an initiative encouraged by the Teachers’ Creativity Center and implemented by students and teachers from Der-Ballout Girls’ school who conducted a research to show the exploitation experienced by female farmers in the area. The initiative nurtured social and political awareness among the school and village community and provided an opportunity to advance gender equality and voice for a group of female farmers and students[31].

Conclusion

The statistical information presented by school principals and the directorates of Education interviewed during the current research activities indicate that the majority of female (and male) school dropouts are caused by “low academic achievement” and/or early marriages. The findings of this research show that the socio-economic conditions of Palestinian families in the targeted communities in Area C continue to deteriorate due to the ongoing political restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation forces and lack of adequate support by representatives of local authorities and international players active in the areas. 

The current research proposed that “low academic achievement” at school is one effect of these reduced living opportunities and limited access to education and employment. Through students and educators outlining the main obstacles to education one can identify ways to effectively improve educational opportunities for girls and boys. 

Analysis of the rich qualitative data collected during two months of fieldwork in the six selected areas illustrates that the educational opportunities for girls and women in Area C are limited due to the entanglement of historical context and current forms of political rule. The continual restrictions imposed by the Israeli military authorities and armed settlers on mobility and access to resources put high demands on each member in the household, including children, to get involved in income generating activities in direct and indirect ways. Moreover, many times it led to excessive absences and low levels of educational achievement among girls (and boys) in these communities in general as described by students, their parents and educators.  

It has been found out that school dropouts are prevalent among both female and male students, and in some schools dropout rates were higher among male students. The social and cultural factors can explain the different reasons of dropouts among girls and boys: whereas it is accepted that a boy will enrol in wage labour in Israeli colonies (i.e. in stone quarries and construction business) or local workshops, this is not usually accepted for girls. 

However, girls’ labour is often needed in agricultural and animal production, and sometimes in family care services especially when families have disabled members. Other cultural aspects include the fears concerning “girls’ honour” in case she is attacked by settlers or strangers, especially when girls have to walk long distances to reach their schools on by-pass roads, parents would prefer to keep them at home. And some of the parents, who belong to a Bedouin community, refuse the idea of their girl studying in mixed classes with boys at school or university levels[32].

The absence of institutional structures severely hamper development opportunities in these localities and obstruct families and their children’s abilities to prioritize education at this stage of their lives. In addition, the political situation in Area C led to a visible gap in the development of the institutional infrastructure including the provision of health, transportation, electricity and water services and educational services when compared to other nearby villages and towns in the rest 40 percent of the West Bank classified as Areas A and B. 

School dropout problems in occupied Palestine are not restricted to Area C, they exist in other areas due to the political situation that led to the deterioration of economic conditions, increase in poverty rates and high rise of unemployment among university graduates. However, students in Areas A and B usually have easier access to school and university education than those in Area C, though the quality of education provided in the Palestinian schools in general requires further examination in future research studies. 

One of the most important findings of this study can be expressed as a call to stop blaming the failing students for their low achievement levels, instead it is high time to look at ways to dismantle the oppressive conditions leading to low-quality learning.

Notes

1.The research team could not identify any mixed parents’ council in the 6 target communities.

2. PALESTINIAN CENTRAL BUREAU OF STATISTICS (PCBS). Preliminary Results of the Population, Housing and Establishments Census, 2017. Ramallah: PCBS, February 2018.

3. Although there are no recent statistics on education and dropouts in Area C the current school students’ lists (in the 6 target localities) show that there are high dropout rates between the tenth grade and earlier grades, and very few students manage to complete their secondary and/or university education, regardless of gender. As it will be detailed later the schooling conditions are poor and students’ achievement are low.

4. Ibid.

5. This was a common reaction to the PCBS latest census in 2017 in the six targeted localities. Most local authorities’ representatives and some of the residents expressed doubts and concerns about the numbers reported in the 2017 census claiming that many inhabitants were not counted due to being away for grazing or agricultural work.    

6. A huge part of villagers’ lands were confiscated for the construction of illegal Israeli settlements of Ma’ale Amos, Mizpe Shalem and Eibi Hankhal. The inhabitants dedicated the main part of the land to build a proper school building, in a safer location away from the main road to avoid settlers’ attacks, however they were not given a building permit.

7. A member of the fathers’ council doubted the accuracy of the number, as he suspected that “the real number of the people of Zif is higher as some residents might not have been counted due to their mobility in grazing seasons”. Another reason for his doubts is the high rates of births in the area, where “polygamy is popular”.

8. Ibid.

9. Source: OCHA and ARIJ online publications for maps and further details

10. See United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report (2016) on http://ldf.ps/documentsShow.aspx?ATT_ID=30098 for more information.

11. No school will accept a student if s/he is not able to submit a transfer certificate from his/her original school.

12. See Article (51) in the Education Law (2017) on http://muqtafi.birzeit.edu/pg/getleg.asp?id=16927

13. United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine (UNISPAL). Economic and social repercussions of the Israeli occupation on the living conditions of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan. 2014.

14. Akoub is a sort of wild thistle which is considered a profitable product that grows in the fields of the village. 

15. Several girls and mothers affirmed that it is socially unacceptable for girls to access social media tools and internet and they attributed this ban as a protective tactic by parents to avoid harassment and “scandals”, while boys didn’t face the same restrictions. 

16. See for example: Fasheh, 1995; Mahshi and Bush, 1989; Asaad, 2000; Sfeir and Bertoni, 2003; Ramahi, 2015; Daoud and AbdulKarim, 2015; in addition to OCHA’s and UNICEF’s reports on oPT 

17. See for instance ADDAMEER PRISONER SUPPORT AND HUMAN RIGHTS ASSOCIATION (ADDAMEER). The Right of Child Prisoners to Education. Ramallah: Addameer, 2010.

18. See PCBS press release issued on 8 March 2018

19. (Velloso, 1996).

20. Farah, 2000; Al-Hroub, 2014

21. See Addameer Prisoner support and Human Rights Association (Addameer). The Right of Child Prisoners to Education. Ramallah: Addameer, 2010 and UNICEF. Children in Israeli Military Detention: Observations and Recommendations, (2013), https://www.unicef.org/oPt/education.html

22. Moughrabi, 2001, as cited in Mazawi, 2017: 166

23. Ghali, 1997: 9

24. See LEWIN, Keith M. “Seeking Secondary Schooling in Sub Saharan Africa; Strategies for Sustainable Financing”. Secondary Education in Africa Programme. Washington: World Bank, 2007.

23. FASHEH, 1995; MAHSHI and BUSH, 1989; RAMAHI, 2015; DAOUD and ABDULKARIM, 2015

26. MOEHE, 2018

27. Wilson et al, 2011

28. Union for the Mediterranean, 2013

29. Fathers’ councils are another example of positive interventions initiated by local communities. Father councils are founded by the village residents in order to support schools and provide them with financial and in-kind assistance; they proved to be a good tool to implement initiatives and identify responsible solutions.

30. Sfeir, 2006

31. For further details see: Ramahi, 2015: 21; Teacher Creativity Center website, 2015

32.See ABU-RABIA-QUEDER, Sarah’s work and research for more information, in particular: Abu-Rabia-Queder, S. (2006), Between tradition and modernization: understanding the problem of Bedouin female dropout, British Journal of Sociology of Education 27(1): 3-17.

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