Palestine to bridge its virtual divides

May 12, 2000

A plan to establish a Palestinian national distance learning centre has been initiated by the World Bank.

The centre will be used for virtual discussions between politicians from different countries, as well as for courses and distance learning.

Abdallah Awad, an information analyst at the World Bank's office near the West Bank city of Ramallah, said that the bank will be responsible for the "procurement of equipment, the installation of satellite connections and technical installations in the pilot phase".

Mr Awad said that Paltel, the Palestinian telecommunications company, had committed itself to providing $1 million (Pounds 650,000) for the operating costs for three years and that the Technical Assistance Trust Fund, administered by the World Bank, had agreed to give a grant of $610,000 for equipment.

Munthir Salah, Palestinian minister of higher education, said the centre would serve distance learning in Palestine. Dr Salah is part of a task force commissioned by the ministry of education to create a vision for higher education.

While the ministry has ambitious plans, which include the introduction of technology into higher education, Dr Salah admitted: "How can you develop a virtual concept in places where people don't have electricity?"

Other plans include an academic scientific network via the internet in higher education institutions.

The Palestinian Academic Scientific Network, which is scheduled to start in 2001, will be funded by Unesco and the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, at an estimated cost of $500,000, to connect the institutions and to train personnel.

Dr Salah said that restrictions on the movement of Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank, and between Jerusalem and the West Bank, were more serious obstacles to cooperation with Israeli academics than the lack of funding.

Lily Feidy, director-general of the ministry's international and cultural relations department, and a professor of linguistics on secondment to Bir Zeit, said: "We can't cooperate with any Israeli universities if we still have a problem with mobility."

Dr Salah said: "During the occupation, higher education lacked technical education and scientific research. Our efforts now are to develop the two fields and we have succeeded in forming a strategy for technical and vocational education, with the ministries of education and labour."

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