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How education reform could curb Palestinian unemployment

To reduce unemployment among young people, the Palestinian government is developing vocational and technical education programs to meet Palestinian and Arab labor market needs.
Palestinian boy Mohamoud Yazji, 16, who works as apprentice mechanic, repairs a car at a garage in Gaza City March 17, 2016. Yazji, whose father works as a tailor, earns 50 Shekels ($12.9) a week to help his father support their family. The boy, who quit school, hopes to own a garage in the future. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem  SEARCH "SALEM LABOUR" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES  - RTSCT76

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Come September, Palestinian schools will begin emphasizing vocational and technical training as part of the government's vision to reform the educational system and alleviate unemployment.

The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labor formed the Supreme Council for Vocational and Technical Education on Jan. 5. The council is tasked with promoting and supporting professional and technical specializations to meet the demands of the labor market.

There are more students in Palestine pursuing academic tracks at universities than the job market can handle. While university graduates can't find jobs in their majors, technical and vocational jobs go unfilled.

The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics said Jan. 26, 2015, that about 32,000 students graduate annually from Palestinian universities and community colleges and are pumped into the labor market. The report also indicated the unemployment rate among young graduates during the second quarter of 2014 was about 56% (34% among me and 75% among women).

Al-Monitor examined the Ministry of Education's plan for integrating vocational and technical education in public schools. Nine vocational and technical specializations will be offered for three classes: the seventh, eighth and ninth grades. These courses are designed to teach students the basic principles of these occupations and promote them as potential professions.

According to the plan, seventh-grade students will have courses in engineering drawing, carpentry and painting, and food and beverage preparation. These courses will serve as an introduction to the hotel industry.

The eighth-grade students will take courses on fashion design, tailoring and sewing; construction; use of metals and plastics in construction; interior design and decoration; and ornamental drawing.

Ninth-graders will take courses on electrical wiring; maintenance of home electronic appliances; hairdressing, skin and beauty care; and food processing.

The plan will be tested in more than 400 of 2,100 Palestinian schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where the necessary laboratories will be provided. A project is underway to equip 122 laboratories and workshops, and two lectures will be given each week for each grade.

Jihad Dridi, the general director of vocational and technical education at the Ministry of Education, told Al-Monitor, “There is a rise in the number of graduates in academic specializations. For example, about 44,000 university graduates applied this year for the Ministry of Education employment test to work as public teachers or administrative employees, while the ministry does not need more than 2,000 new teachers or employees. This confirms that a continued focus on academic education will increase unemployment and the lack of job opportunities for graduates.”

The objective of this vocational education program is to expose children to various options early in their lives "so that they are able to have their own occupations instead of relying on government jobs,” Dridi added.

The program is receiving German financial support. The German government's KfW Development Bank signed cooperation agreements May 25 totaling 10 million euros (around $11 million) with the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education and the Ministry of Finance and Planning for vocational and technical training.

“We seek to increase support for this vital educational branch, given its special importance. We focus our support on young people in order to reduce rampant unemployment within their ranks, especially among university graduates," Peter Beerwerth, head of the German Representative Office in Palestine, said on the sidelines of the signing ceremony in Ramallah.

During the ceremony, Babbitt Kaminski, president of the bank's education and economic development department, stressed the importance of close cooperation with relevant ministries to open up prospects for Palestinian young people, create job opportunities and increase vocational and technical training opportunities to speed up their integration in the labor market.

Dridi said Germany responded to the request of the Palestinian government to support vocational education in the framework of ongoing discussions about the government’s strategic inclinations and plans to this effect. He explained that the funding will be mainly focused on supporting and rehabilitating existing vocational education centers and industrial schools and colleges and providing them with the necessary equipment and materials.

Dridr further said that the biggest challenge facing vocational and technical education is the high economic cost borne by the government, as the cost per student is about three times more than that in the academic education branch. He added that the government is seeking to secure additional funds to support technical education and build more schools, laboratories and workshops through relations with potential donor countries and the Palestinian private sector, as well as through the amount allocated by the government in its annual budget for the Ministry of Education teachers' salaries and other school expenses.

Nasser Kitami, the Labor Ministry undersecretary, told Al-Monitor, “Two-thirds of academic education graduates in Palestine do not find work in the labor market. This is why the Supreme Council for Vocational and Technical Education was established … since vocational and technical specializations are more needed in our labor market than academic specializations. This would help address the imbalances between education and labor market needs,” he added.

The council will help develop curricula, monitor labor market needs and coordinate with the private sector. If the program is well received, Kitami said he could see demand eventually doubling.

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