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PISA report: Palestine achieves a commendable result in its first participation in the test

2023-12-09T23:37:23.948Z

Highlights: PISA report: Palestine achieves a commendable result in its first participation in the test. Students from the Palestinian territories do better than Jordan and Morocco. It's one of the few places where girls do much better in math. The Palestinian school system educates 1.38 million pupils in compulsory education, aged six to 16, through three networks, or at least did until the start of the last conflict. The more than 600,000 children and adolescents in primary and secondary education there have been unable to go to school for weeks.


Students from the Palestinian territories do better than Jordan and Morocco. It's one of the few places where girls do much better in math


The Palestinian territories have achieved a commendable result in their first participation in the PISA Report, the world's leading assessment, which analyzes the mathematics, reading comprehension and science skills of 15- and 16-year-old students (which in most countries coincides with the last year of compulsory schooling) and whose eighth edition was published on Tuesday. The exams were held in the spring of 2022. Compared to countries in their geographical and cultural environment, such as Jordan or Morocco, Palestinian children are slightly above, despite studying in a context that was already much more adverse, and that in the case of Gaza, the current invasion of the strip by Israel has made directly impossible. The more than 600,000 children and adolescents in primary and secondary education there have been unable to go to school for weeks, and around 60 per cent of schools have been totally or partially destroyed, while the rest are mainly used as shelter by the displaced.

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The Palestinian students, who participated in 50 secondary schools, 30 in the West Bank and 20 in Gaza, scored 366 points in mathematics, 349 in reading comprehension and 369 in science. The result is far from the OECD average (472, 476 and 485, respectively) and Spain (473, 474 and 485). But the one that makes sense to compare it with that of the countries around it, says Juan Manuel Moreno, professor of Didactics and School Organization at the UNED, who knows the region well because he worked there for the World Bank for 15 years. Looked at this way, the Palestinian territories are 5 points ahead of Jordan in math, 3 points ahead in reading, and 6 points behind in science. And they are 1 point ahead of Morocco in math, 10 in reading comprehension and 4 in science. This year's edition of PISA – the eighth since 2000 – does not include other Arab countries in its vicinity, such as Egypt or Lebanon. And despite the economic abyss that separates them, the difference between Palestinian students and those in Saudi Arabia is not so great in mathematics (23 points, similar to that which separates Castilla y León, the first Spanish autonomous community classified, from the average of Spain).

Moreno was an education specialist at the World Bank and for six years, between 2013 and 2019, head of education projects in the territories and believes that to say that education in Palestine faces, even before the current conflict, great difficulties on a daily basis, is an understatement. "Students miss many days of school a year due to budget uncertainty and, in the last three years, also due to the pandemic. Professors and teachers are constantly subjected to the prospect of not receiving their salaries. Or to collect only a part of it for extended periods, because there is no money for payroll. In the last three years, teachers have been paid only 80% of their salary. Labor conflicts, in this context, are considerable. And there are frequent teachers' strikes, sometimes of long duration," he sums up. In the 2021-2022 academic year, in which PISA data was collected, Palestinian students missed almost a quarter of school days for one reason or another.

The Palestinian school system educates 1.38 million pupils in compulsory education, aged six to 16, through three networks, or at least did until the start of the last conflict. 65% of students attend public school and 10% attend private school, with much more weight, in both cases, in the West Bank than in Gaza. The remaining 25 percent belongs to UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, which has a much larger presence in the Gaza Strip. Students in the latter network perform significantly better, despite not belonging to a higher socioeconomic class – quite the opposite; children living in refugee camps attend it," according to a 2016 report by the World Bank, based on data on participation in TIMSS, another international test on knowledge in mathematics and science, aimed in this case at students younger than those in PISA ― under 10 years old ― in which Palestine has participated for years. The TIMSS evaluation is organized by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Performance (IEA), based in the Netherlands and Germany, and made up of official education authorities and universities from various countries.

Female students lead the way in mathematics

UNRWA's teachers have the same initial qualifications as those in the public system, Moreno says, but they differ in that they join the workforce through a "period of induction into teaching," and because they have greater prospects for professional development once in the system, he explains. During his time at the World Bank, the UNED professor promoted a program for the training of Palestinian primary school teachers, which included the requalification of teachers who were already active and changes in the training that future teachers received.

PISA highlights some striking features of the Palestinian education system. One of them is that, despite having three well-developed networks, it has a low degree of segregation, comparable, in Europe, to that of the Nordic countries. Another is that poor Palestinian students, those belonging to the 25% of households with the lowest income, who manage to be among the 25% with the best performance in mathematics, which the OECD considers an indicator of "resilience", exceed 12%. A percentage that places it above the averages of the OECD and Spain, and in the group of the top 20 countries of the more than 70 analysed, with a level similar to that of Norway. A third highlight is that it is one of the few places where girls do better in math than boys. And unlike Finland, where the advantage of female students is small, in the case of the Palestinian territories, such as Albania or Jordan, the difference in favour of girls in the subject is high.

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Source: elparis

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