Published on Arab Voices

West Bank and Gaza: knowledge as a pathway for dignity

In a territory that has some of the highest unemployment rates in the world, particularly among youth and young women, one would expect that Palestinians had given up on education. Why bother getting a degree when all that awaits graduates is to sit at home or in a café, or worse, to work in the dangerous tunnel economy? As a parent, why spend scarce family resources educating the kids when almost everyone around – adults and youth, educated and not -- have no work or economic prospects? It turns out that such an expectation is wrong.

Looking at six Palestinian communities, the new World Bank report "Aspirations on Hold? Young Lives in the West Bank and Gaza" notes how much Palestinians value education, beyond its apparent impact on the labor market. The continued insecurity and bleak economy have not altered this view and may have even emboldened it. Why? Because education is a symbol of possibilities, opportunities and a different life; it gives educated youth a sense of pride and dignity, helping them to transcend the limitations of the present and dream of the future.

World Bank | Arne HoelOf course, similar to their peers around the world, young Palestinians do equate schooling with the prospect of getting good jobs. But what is most striking is that education has become a source of self-worth and social recognition. In the words of one young man from Old City in Hebron, “When you have a degree you have your respect wherever you go.” One adolescent boy from the University Quarter in Hebron says being uneducated is to “remain humiliated all his life.”

Most importantly, the impact of education on a person’s self-worth also benefits others. As one young woman from Yebna puts it: “An educated person is useful for his society.” In the West Bank and Gaza, this statement is most compelling as it affects the future of the Palestinian nation. A young boy from Old City in Hebron says: “Defending the homeland is through learning and science, not only jihad.” Knowledge will lead to Liberation. 

These are some of the reasons – both economic and human – why the notion of access to education for all has garnered widespread approval. In the view of another young man from Old City in Hebron, even “the garbage collector needs at least Tawjihi [twelfth grade level education].”  This view is shared by youths in spite of the lack of jobs. For a young woman in Al Jnena “education is the most important, regardless of the injustice in employability.”

According to a global qualitative assessment, Palestinian youth emphasize the less tangible dimensions of education more than their peers from 19 other countries. They also argue fervently for equally educating both girls and boys. This commitment to the good of knowledge – which contrasts with my own experience teaching university students in peaceful and prosperous societies, who often take their opportunities for granted – shows that education can do much more than just improve youth’s employability. It gives them hope, a sense of dignity and a possibility of a better future.

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