Criticism of the Palestinian curriculum from Israel and the US has been strong, but education providers claim further modernisation will improve learning.
It is typical of the Palestinian fractured sense of identity that something the Palestinian Authority considers one of its great accomplishments should be the subject of furious criticism.
The new K-12 school curriculum is now in use across the West Bank and Gaza, teaching English from Grade 1, introducing civic education, technology education, and a Christian curriculum for Christian students. A third foreign language is set to be added as the Occupied Territories try to bring learning up to Western standards.
The Palestinian curriculum has been subject to constant attack from Israel and the US, and the belief that Palestinian textbooks foster anti-semitism and encourage hatred and violence is now widespread.
It is a charge roundly rejected by Palestinian educators, who point with pride to the Christian classes and the three-year review announced under the Palestinian Reform and Development Plan, which will further modernise the curriculum, with greater emphasis placed on e-learning and the introduction of a third foreign language.
Professor Maher Hashweh, dean of the faculty of arts at Birzeit University, was part of a UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) team that examined the curriculum in light of the Israeli and US allegations.
The results, he says, show conclusively that the concerns were unfounded, though two years after the study was concluded, Unesco’s report remains unpublished, a situation he describes as “curious”.
Hashweh concedes that textbooks omit certain important issues such as the border between Israel and Palestine, but asks, “Can we expect them to when Israel itself has not defined these borders?”
Moreover, as Education & Higher Education Minister Lamis Alami points out, it is impossible to teach Palestinian children to ignore the daily reality of suffering, depravation and violence that confronts them.
“It is not a peace curriculum but it is not a war curriculum,” she says. “How can you teach about peace to children in Gaza who are constantly exposed to all forms of violence?
“We constantly emphasise non-violent communication but they will talk about violence in the street but also in the home. All we can do is try to change attitudes and hope that when dialogue with our neighbours comes, they will be ready.”