“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” –Nelson Mandela.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” –Nelson Mandela.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” --Nelson Mandela.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” --Nelson Mandela.

Despite the difficult situation we have been living under for more than 68 years, Palestine is known worldwide  as having one of the lowest illiteracy rates. The Palestinian people are among the most well-educated people on earth. In all of Palestine, illiteracy is only 2% according to a report by UNESCO.  As a Palestinian, it is an honor to write about this subject; it makes me feel proud of my own people. As Mandela says, education is the only weapon we have as an occupied nation.

It’s Our Only Hope

Palestinians take their education so seriously, that in every Palestinian house you find at least one very well-educated member. Education is a huge part in our lives. After we lost our homes and lands in the wars in 1948 and 1967, and due to the loss of other sources like trade, industry, and farming education became the main way for us to create a better future. So many Palestinian families now depend on their children to study in universities and find a good job so they can help them financially. Palestinian families are ready to pay a lot and students are ready to study hard and do the impossible so they can get a good mark that qualifies them to apply to a good university here in Palestine or outside. Why? Because it’s the only way we can live, get married and open houses! And this is why the last year of high school—or as we say it in Arabic, “Tawjihi,” is so important.   Because it is one of the most important years of any Palestinian student, it also brings them a lot of stress.

A Lot of Pressure

Living in an occupied land is not easy at all, I tell you. But I don’t want to pity myself or my people here for living in such situation—no! I know that we are a very strong people who managed to live under occupation, and I know also that we have our own faults in our society and our educational system.  Is our high level of education because we love to learn, or because it comes out of pressure??

I can’t tell you how much pressure the Palestinian high school student must live through in their last year of high school—the “Tawjihi.”

So what is the Tawjihi?

As I mentioned, the Tawjihi refers to the last year in high school, during which time the Palestinian student must choose which stream he or she wants to apply for.  We can apply for either the Scientific stream where we take courses like Physics, Chemistry and Biology or the Literary stream, where we take courses like History and Geography. The student focuses on studying the topics for a whole year, in preparation for a governmental exams they will take at the end of the year.  Students apply for 7 different topics, depending on which stream they are in—and then here comes the pressure—the student’s results are based on what percentage they get out of 100%.  Their result will allow them to apply to the universities or not.

If you remember education is  one of the main sources of living in Palestine, so without a good university certificate, you will disappoint your family in all ways. And that’s another story—the family. It’s an honor/shame story!  Palestinian families put a lot of pressure on their children during this year because they want them to get very good marks in order to apply for a good university .  Additionally, it’s a shame for the family if their child does not pass this exam or gets bad results. I’ve been there—and it is hard to explain how much pressure we feel.  On one hand you really want to get a good result to continue your higher education and on the other hand you are also worried about what your family and society will think of you if you disappoint them!? (On a personal note, I did disappoint them—but never myself).

The Big Day

The day when the Palestinian government  announces the Tawjihi’s results is every student’s terrifying day. No, it’s not only the wedding day that we will remember for the rest of our lives—it’s also the Tawjihi announcement day. On this day, the Palestinian government announces your results on the radio stations, local TV channels and certain Websites—yes, with your name!  Everyone in the country can see your name and your score. (Embracing, I know)!  And here’s another reason why you study so hard: After the celebrations begin, the students get into their parents or relatives’ cars and roll down the windows.  They celebrate their success by touring their whole city with very loud music and horns. Now think about the students who did not succeed this exam—how will they feel hearing those noises of celebrations crossing in front of their houses? In some Palestinian cities, they use guns and shoot real celebratory bullets, sometimes resulting in the accidental injury of someone.  Yes indeed, it is a big day for the Palestinian community.

As I think about this important day in our life, I have to admit that I still don’t agree with our educational system and with the big issue that society make out of the Tawjihi.  In spite of this, I’m proud that Palestine—an occupied land—has managed to become one of the most educated nations in the world. And I suppose the last word should go to those who did not pass this exam and disappointed their parents: Just make sure to keep moving forward and to never disappoint yourself.