Defying odds: Palestine has one of the highest literacy rates in the world

Defying odds: Palestine has one of the highest literacy rates in the world
Palestine's literacy rates have increased substantially over the past 20 years, despite education becoming increasingly inaccessible for Palestinian children.
3 min read
06 September, 2018
Palestine's literacy rates is among the highest in the world [Getty]

Palestine has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, an official report announced, noting only 3.3 percent of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip over the age of 15 are illiterate.

Marking the eve of International Literacy Day, the official Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (BCBS) on Thursday released the report detailing the illiteracy rates of Palestinians, breaking down the information by age, gender and geographical location.

The report shows there has been more than 10 percent decrease in illiteracy rates over the past 20 years.

This is in spite of the fact that Palestinian civilian infrastructure, including schools, are now at greater risk than ever of being demolished by Israel after the US cut funds to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), which is crucial for the schools to operate.

With US donations accounting for 30 percent of UNRWA’s budget, cutting its funds means the educational future is uncertain for 526,000 Palestinian children inside the occupied Palestinian territories and neighbouring refugee camps.

Israel has welcomed the move and is taking further steps to remove UNRWA’s presence in the occupied territories.

Jerusalem's Israeli mayor Nir Barkat on Monday vowed to expel UNRWA agency from Jerusalem, just days after the United States halted all funding for the agency.

"Removing UNRWA will reduce the incitement and terror, will improve the services to residents, will increase the Israelisation of the east of the city, and will contribute to the sovereignty and unity of Jerusalem," Barkat said.

In July, children’s rights group Save the Children warned that more than 44 schools across the occupied West Bank are at risk of demolition by Israel, hindering access to education for Palestinian children.

However, with education being a staple principle in Palestinian culture, Palestinian students have defied obstacles and have continued to excel in their studies.

All-round improvement

Overall, literacy rates in Palestine have increased over the last two decades. The illiteracy rate between the years of 1997 to 2017 fell from 13.9 percent to just 3.3 percent.

While there was a substantial gender gap between males and females 20 years ago, with the male illiteracy rate standing at 7.8 percent, compared to female illiteracy rate standing at 20.3 percent, the gap between the two sexes has closed in, according to the report.

The illiteracy rate for males in 2017 fell to 1.7 percent compared to 5 percent for females.

Younger Palestinians are more likely to be literate, according to the report. 

More than half of illiterate Palestinians are over the age of 65, with them comprising 54.7 percent of illiterate Palestinians.

This is compared to 9 percent of Palestinians between the ages of 15-29 making up the illiterate population, 10.5 percent for Palestinians in the 30-44 age bracket and 25.8 percent for Palestinians aged 45-64.

The besieged Gaza Strip and occupied East Jerusalem have the lowest illiteracy rates in Palestine at 2.3 percent, which is also where UNRWA schools operate.

The report also found that Palestinians in refugee camps are more likely to be literate than compared to those living in urban areas, where receiving the right to education is less likely.