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Education for education’s sake? The conundrum facing Palestinian youth

Aziz Atamanov's picture
Also available in: العربية
When it comes to education and human development, the Palestinian territories have traditionally outperformed countries with similar GNI per capita as well as its neighbors in the Middle East and North Africa region (figures 1 and 2). Despite facing one of the highest unemployment rates in the world and a severe lack of employment opportunities in the private sector, until 2010, Palestinian youth continued to invest in education.

Equipped with more education than any previous generation, young Palestinians are now moving into adulthood with uncertainty about what their futures might hold amidst a protracted risk of conflict and an economy with steadily rising unemployment. In this context, will young Palestinian men and women continue to value and invest in education?
Figure 1. Mean years of schooling in the Palestinian territories and selected comparators in 2014. (Source: UN HDI 2014)
Note: countries selected have +-20% of GNI per capita in the Palestinian
territories or developing MNA countries.

Figure 2. Mean and expected years of schooling in the Palestinian territories during 2004-2015. (Source: UN HDI 2014)

An analysis of the Labor Force Survey (LFS) data between 2010 and 2015 points toward a weakening link between education and employment outcomes. Even though scarce jobs continued to be more accessible for individuals with bachelors and higher degrees (university education), employment rates for university graduates were declining, while their unemployment rates were rising (figures 3 and 4). This tendency was mostly observed amongst women, especially the most educated ones. Even though the unemployment rate was higher for less educated men than the more educated ones, the unemployment gap between the two was narrowing.
Figure 3. Employment rates by education level and gender in %, 15+
Figure 4. Unemployment rates by education level and gender in %, 15+
Source: LFS 2010-2015, PCBS. Authors’ calculation.
Note: Secondary education includes associate diploma
Recent data also suggests that human capital investments may be on the decline accompanying this weakening relationship between university education and employment.

Alongside a decline in the expected years of schooling (figure 2), data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics shows an 8-percentage point decline in net enrolment rates, suggesting that fewer Palestinian youth are staying in grades 11 and 12 (figure 5). 
Figure 5. Adjusted net enrolment rate, upper secondary, %. (Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, WDI)
Note: the official upper secondary school age group who are enrolled in upper secondary education or higher, expressed as a percentage of the corresponding population.
An ILO report on labor market transition among Palestinian youth, and multiple other data1 sources corroborate this early sign of declining investments in education. While educated youth in the Palestinian territories still have access to the best jobs, the severe and persistent paucity of jobs could discourage investments in higher education including those in secondary-level school education, and in job-related trainings.

While this link between declining secondary enrollment and persistent high youth unemployment could signal the beginnings of a worrying trend, further analysis is needed to better understand the reasons that underlie this decline in enrollment. In a fragile context, where deteriorating access to jobs has also shown to have exacerbated the risk of conflict, decline in human capital could have serious consequences on multiple dimensions of welfare.