In 1989, the Harvard Educational Review published "The Palestinian Uprising and Education for the Future" by Khalil Mahshi and Kim Bush. In that article, Mahshi and Bush reviewed Palestinian education from the time of the Ottoman Turks until the late 1980s. They documented that throughout history, Palestinians were educated within systems imposed by outsiders. Mahshi and Bush argued that an already contentious relationship with Israel was exacerbated by the combination of an Israeli civil and military authority and a Jordanian educational curriculum. The first intifadah (uprising), which began in December 1987, challenged the Israeli occupation and its imposed institutions. During this time period, educational establishments in the West Bank and the Gaza strip were subject to frequent closures by Israeli military authorities, forcing Palestinians to reexamine their current system of education and to look for both short- and long-term alternatives.
Given these conditions, Mahshi and Bush argued that the first intifadah was a catalyst for educational change in Palestine. They examined different models of education that were developed when schools in the Palestinian territories were forcibly shut down by the Israeli military: United Nations Relief and Works Agency schools in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon; private schools; Popular Committee schools; and neighborhood schools. They also analyzed several initiatives created by and for Palestinians during that time: informal, communitybased education methods; alternative modes of instruction such as home-learning packets, which did not require the school structure but still used the existing system and textbooks; and long-term planning that conceived of education as nation-building. Mahshi and Bush argued that the intifadah created a giant educational laboratory and challenged conservative educators to start afresh. Finally, they outlined a pioneering project, Education for Awareness and Involvement, that they believed contained the beginnings of a new Palestinian curriculum that would connect school and community and shift the focus from end-of-school examinations to student-centered pedagogy.
By articulating the challenges of Palestinian education clearly, Mahshi and Bush encouraged debate among educators in Palestine and the international educational community about the future of Palestinian education. In the more than fifteen years since their article was published, the debate on Palestinian education has flourished. And much has changed. Khalil Mahshi served as the director-general of international and public relations for the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education and is now a senior program specialist with the International Institute for Educational Planning at the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris. Preceding the Palestinian elections of January 2006, and given both Mahshi's extensive experience and his close relationship with Palestinian education, the Harvard Educational Review took the opportunity to interview him. On December 1, 2005, two members of the HER Editorial Board spoke with Mahshi about the legacy of the first Palestinian intifadah and the current state of Palestinian education. Mahshi — who asked us to call him "Khalil" — emphasized the subjective nature of his observations and the complex role of commenting on the work of colleagues who are still engaged in the difficult work of building an education system. Khalil describes the changes that have taken place in the education of Palestinians since he and Bush wrote "The Palestinian Uprising and Education for the Future," and he outlines lessons from this development process that are applicable globally to the building and rebuilding of education systems in the face of occupation, resistance, and conflict.
We are excited to speak with you, Khalil. We would like you to start by describing the educational situation in the West Bank and Gaza since the publication of your and Kim Bush's 1989 HER article, "The Palestinian Uprising and Education for the Future." What is the current status of the education system from preschool to higher education, including the kinds of alternative and community-based forms of education that you describe in that article?