6 September 2012
"I wish I could enjoy recess", says student Reem, a ninth-grader at an UNRWA school in Jordan. "But the school yard; it’s so small."
Reem is studying at one of several makeshift, rented schools organised by UNRWA years ago as a temporary stopgap for a decades-old problem: a chronic lack of educational facilities and financial resources for an expanding refugee population, in a country where real estate comes at a high price.
More than 15,000 of the young Palestine refugees throughout Jordan are currently forced to attend class in 22 unsuitable rented buildings in densely-populated urban areas. A total of 40 schools run on double shifts in these 22 buildings; some in apartment blocks, others on top of commercial businesses.
The situation in Jebel Taj, in the southern part of the capital Amman, is a case in point. Here, UNRWA currently runs five schools from three dilapidated, rented apartments that offer a seriously poor learning environment. Around 1,100 students attend classes crammed into kitchens and bedrooms, with poor ventilation and lighting, inadequate bathrooms, and almost non-existent play areas. All this results in a grossly inadequate learning environment for the children.
Attending class in an unsuitable rented building poses a serious challenge to many of the Palestine refugee children trying to get an education in Jordan, and as UNRWA moves ahead with reforms to its education programme throughout the Middle East, the rented schools in Jordan look set to fall even further behind. Encouraging group work and other active learning in dilapidated, overcrowded classrooms is nearly impossible. Operating costs in the rented schools are also considerably higher than in proper UNRWA schools.
"Because our building is rented, there is little room to make any adjustments, or to expand", explains Iman Zaytoon, headteacher at UNRWA’s Nazzal school.
"The school yard is too small to allow for physical education or extra-curricular activities, and the morning registration is difficult to organise properly. In class, the first row of desks has to be very close to the blackboard. We also have no emergency exit.
"All of this has a very negative impact on our students."
With most of the rented schools in dense urban areas – near main roads, residential buildings, and shops – traffic, noise, and access problems add to a feeling of insecurity for students and staff alike.
"The street is too narrow", says second-grader Ansam Badawi, who has problems getting home from her rented school in a busy urban area. Headteacher Hani agrees: "The school is in a busy commercial area, and students are at real risk of car accidents."
Although they were originally intended as a short-term measure, the use of rented schools has become entrenched over the years because of a lack of funds and available land for new schools.
With the support of the Jordanian government, UNRWA has made the building of new schools in Jordan a priority, but more funds are desperately needed to make this a reality. Sadly, the problem looks set to worsen, as a recent change in the rental law in Jordan means that rent on the temporary schools such as those in Jebel Taj will increase considerably. This further limits the Agency’s ability to invest funds in the new school buildings that are so desperately needed.
UNRWA wants to offer a vastly-improved learning environment for thousands of boys and girls by replacing temporary schools like Jebel Taj and Nazzal with properly-planned buildings. The greater efficiency of proper school buildings will also mean savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars, which would be spent where it is most needed by our programmes on the ground. In a first for Jordan, UNRWA’s planned new schools will also incorporate green technologies such as solar power, solar hot-water heating and rainwater harvesting; setting high standards for both learning and environmental care that accord with UNRWA’s values.
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