Violent conflict poses huge challenges and restrictions on people’s lives and their fundamental rights, including their right to education. Faced with unceasing humanitarian crises around the world, there is a growing concern about how to deliver education in emergencies. Among the wide variety of issues existing in this emerging field, this paper focuses on “second chance” education for the people who drop out of school due to violent conflict, using a case study from Palestine.
Decades-long military occupation has profoundly deprived Palestinians of their land, homes, properties, and other basic human rights. Denial of Palestinian social and individual self-determination has continued for generations with no end in sight. Nevertheless, Palestinians struggle to build their lives and society, and education is one endeavor where significant efforts are being exerted resulting in considerable achievements. Among those efforts is a two-year educational program called “al-taleem al-moazy (parallel learning).” The Ministry of Education of the Palestinian Authority runs this program to ensure education for adults and adolescents who have dropped out of school. Focusing on those who graduated from this program, this paper attempts to uncover the voices of people who have missed out on education in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – collectively referred to as the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). This contributes to the deepening of our insights into the meaning of education in the oPt, as not enough attention has been paid to the experience of lost education within a relatively “educated” society.
The research draws on life-stories collected through in-depth interviews as its primary source of information. 23 graduates of the Moazy program were interviewed for the purpose of understanding how their schooling or education was interrupted, what it is like to be “uneducated” in society, and what internal and external factors enabled them to go back to education. The interviews reveal that the ways in which the occupation hampers education extend far beyond those of direct measures such as school closures, detention, and movement restrictions. The occupation disrupts every aspect of life in the oPt, including the economy and psychology of the Palestinians. This has a significant impact on the ability and willingness of families to send their children to school. The life-stories, in particular, of many female interviewees illuminate the predicaments of girls in which families force their daughters to leave school and marry at an early age as a safer alternative in an environment of a military occupation that consequently induces violence, harassment, and restrictions.
Despite all those difficulties, many interviewees showed a strong conviction that they had inherent rights to education and their own potential for the future. That seems to be a significant enabler for regaining access to education. It was also observed that the Palestinian cultural environment and social atmosphere highly appreciates education to the extent that being “uneducated” brings a sense of embarrassment. This cultural and social norm appears to be a major motivation for some interviewees to seek a second chance for education. The study also concludes that Palestinian society highly values education as its pursuit aspires towards three achievements: a sense of autonomy and dignity for the individual and the community in the environment where anything can be taken any time by the occupation forces; a foundation for keeping hopes alive that a future is achievable despite the harsh and seemingly never-ending reality of the occupation; and the ownership of their own voice when arguing for justice in the larger world and global community.
Keywords: Palestine, second chance education, conflict, life-story, dignity