Given the circumstances that have prevailed for decades, with a persistent refugee situation and political unrest, the level of education is high among Palestinians. Almost all young people can read and write.
When the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994 through the Oslo process (see Modern History), it assumed responsibility for the schools. In Palestine, compulsory school is compulsory for children between 6 and 15 years. A national curriculum, common to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, began to be implemented at the turn of the millennium. Prior to this, curricula borrowed from other countries were followed.
Girls go to school to the same extent as boys. There are joint schools, but most students attend separate boys ‘or girls’ schools. This is especially true in the Gaza Strip. One of the actions the Islamist movement Hamas took after its takeover of power in 2007 (see Modern History) was to invite separate schools for girls and boys from the age of nine. Girls in Gaza must also wear a headscarf at school.
Outside the public education system there are private schools. In many cases, they are run by parishes, but the students in a school can come from both Muslim and Christian families. A survey done a few years after the turn of the millennium showed in round numbers that one tenth of the primary school children went to private schools, six out of ten in the public school system and three out of ten in schools run by the UN in the refugee camps. Almost all preschools were private.
UNRWA, the United Nations Organization for Palestinian Refugees, provides primary schools – no higher-level schools – in refugee camps both on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, as well as in Palestinian camps in neighboring countries (see Refugees). UNRWA operates more than 700 schools and states that a total of half a million children attend UN schools, about half of which are in the Gaza Strip. The classes are large and the students have to be taught in shifts. UNRWA’s schools follow the curriculum that applies in the country where the refugee camp is located.
There are about ten universities in the Palestinian territories, but the research resources are small. For doctoral education, a Palestinian student must be given the opportunity to study abroad. The most famous university is Birzeit in Ramallah on the West Bank.