For the past week students have been counting the days until their high school exam results are released. Tawjihi, the last year of high school, is notoriously difficult in Palestine, and many students feel that this year was among the more difficult tests.
Some here feel that the reason the test has become more difficult Palestine-wide is, with over 20,000 university and college graduates already sitting unemployed in Gaza alone, not to mention thousands more in the occupied West Bank and occupied Jerusalem, more challenging exams might persuade potential students to go to trade schools or open small businesses like small grocery stores, to decrease the number of new university students and future unemployed. An ironic solution for a nation which prides itself on its high rates of education and higher education. I’ve constantly marveled that Palestinians not only pursue higher education in the face of unimaginable obstacles under occupation and siege. Even the simplest of the problems: electricity. Imagine studying by candlelight… on a regular basis. Or the problem of materials in Gaza: not having textbooks, notebooks, access to internet resources (power cuts).
In the occupied West Bank I met students who got up hours early to travel to universities in cities like Nablus or Ramallah where students would have to pass countless military occupation checkpoints en route to their studies. Same goes returning home. I saw Israeli army raids on small towns, Israeli military jeeps parked outside secondary schools, calling sudden lockdowns (“curfews”) on the towns and creating panic in the schools and streets.
And in Gaza, though now devoid of regular Israeli army presence within the Strip (ignoring the routine army invasions into border regions and settled presence in Gaza’s sea just 3 miles off the coast), the struggle for education continues with overcrowded schools, cut-off access to education abroad, poverty so great that many are forced to drop out of grade or high school, selling candies on the street or digging through rubble in border regions in order to add to the family’s income.
I met another such guy the other day: 19, dropped out of school at 14, sells snacks in the municipal park, has an ill mother and ill younger sister (3 years old) and would have liked to have been a teacher.
As I sat with M’s family last night, we talked about today’s exam results. S wrote the exams and is nervously awaiting her marks. S, like her older brother and younger siblings, is very bright and a diligent student. All 6 of the kids are studious and regularly get the highest grades, but the increased difficulty of this years exam has S’s mother biting her nails as well.
The last two weeks, graduates of the Islamic University have been having their grad ceremonies, while high school students wrote their exams ( taking about 2 weeks to write them all). Local news reports have over 89,000 students in the occupied West Bank and Gaza having written their tawjihi exams this year.
Today, the marks come out; tomorrow the struggle continues: for employment, for further education, for life without siege and occupation.