A $100 million fund has been launched to change the Palestinian education system through a radically new approach to teaching and learning methods, in an initiative that could ultimately be expanded across the entire Arab world.
The Palestinian Education Trust (PET), a not-for-profit organization set up by philanthropist businessmen with the blessing of the authorities in the occupied parts of the territories, was unveiled at the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Middle East meeting in the Dead Sea resort in Jordan.
Sabri Saidam, the Palestinian education minister, said the aim was to “win the hearts and minds of Palestinians and focusing on liberating Palestinians through education. Our slogan is: Educate a child, liberate a country.”
Around $10 million has already been pledged for PET, which is the brainchild of two Arab businessmen — Samer Khoury and Khalid Abdulla-Janahi. Abdulla-Janahi also writes opinion articles for Arab News. The aim is to raise another $90 million through appeals to potential donors throughout the Arab world.
The scheme began a year ago at a meeting at a London airport, where Janahi and Khoury discussed the need for a new and radically different educational system in the Middle East.
“It is about changing how we do things in the region, not just in Palestine but in the whole of the Arab world. We want to change the way of thinking about education and the mindset of teachers. What I am getting at (is) the need for critical thinking,” Janahi said.
The scheme was also backed by Oliver McTernan, the director of Forward Thinking, an organization that helps resolve disputes through mediation. McTernan said: “There is a mismatch between the education system in the region and the economy and the job opportunities available. There are something like 250,000 young people out of work in Gaza and the West Bank, and it is a recipe for disaster. These people need an education that prepares them for the future.”
Khoury said: “We want to create an education system so that Palestinian people can excel anywhere they go in the world.”
An official document outlining the aims of the trust said: “Education is the foundation of Palestinian empowerment and the cornerstone of the advancement of the Palestinian cause. Yet young Palestinians find themselves unable to establish fruitful careers, they cannot gain their independence and they struggle to build family lives of their own. This fosters desperation and resentment within the occupied territories.
“The occupation is a fundamental factor at the core of the crisis, but there are significant steps that can be taken to alleviate the pressures young people face and help them build a better future,” it added.
While 98 percent of Palestinian people are literate, and there are high school enrollment figures, unemployment rates are as high as 42 percent in Gaza and 18 percent in the West Bank.
By Frank Kane
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