Education in the Gaza Strip

The UNRWA Education programme in Gaza is the largest of all UNRWA programs in the five fields, serving 291,100 students (150,608 males and 140,492 females) from Grades 1-9 in the 2021/2022 school year. Students study in the 278 UNRWA schools across the Gaza Strip, of which 80 operate on a single shift basis, 198 on a double shift, staffed by some 9,443 education personnel. In line with the trend in previous years, average class sizes in the 2021/2022 school year remained 41.2 same as previous school year 2020/2021, As the main provider of services to Palestine refugee children in Gaza, UNRWA plays a major role in the advancement of the rights of children to be protected from violence and in promoting a peaceful and child-centered society. In Gaza, the recurrent hostilities (2008/09, 2012/14, 2021) have exacerbated the effects of the ongoing blockade, which is entered its fifteen years in summer 2022. The blockade continues to have a devastating impact on people’s lives, with severely restricted freedom of movement, crippling the economy and rendering the majority of the population dependent on humanitarian aid to meet their basic needs. School provides students with a place where they are able to feel safe and secure and can develop the skills and aptitudes for their future.

An essential dimension of identifying and addressing students’ psychological needs is through provision of mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) services. In this regard, and in line with the MHPSS Framework for UNRWA schools, Gaza field works diligently worked to promote the well-being of all children with more emphasis on students who are directly exposed to life atrocities in Gaza. The May 2021 incident, resulted in killing and injuries of many children and civilians leaving more many children with psychological scars. These deaths and injuries strongly affect the sense of safety and security among refuges impacting the emotional status of students, teachers, and their communities including for accessing or attending schools. In survey conducted by Education MHPSS team, out of 12,234 children 42% were found in need for psychosocial intervention even (9) months later 35% of these children were still suffering from trauma reactions. This all happens with the dire economic situation also increases the risk of student drop out, as it puts pressure on children, particularly boys, to help support their families with additional income and leaves some families unable to pay for school materials or transportation.

The Education Reform Strategy has been implemented at all levels to bring about transformational change in classroom practices and, thus, improve children’s learning outcomes. The Teacher Policy was effectively implemented in 2014 with all support structures very quickly up and running. The professional development programs of School Based Teacher Development (SBTD I and II) enable teachers to try out new approaches in the classroom and reflect upon their impact. Approximately 5,954 UNRWA teachers in Gaza completed the SBTD I, and about 1,239 teachers the SBTD II programme by July 2022. Leadership practices are being strengthened through the Leading for the Future (LftF) programme, with 602 school principals and deputy school principals in Gaza having completed the LftF programme by July 2022.

Gaza field had for a number of years a stand-alone human rights curriculum, taught in dedicated lessons. However, the Agency-wide Human Rights, Conflict Resolution and Tolerance (HRCRT) Toolkit was rolled out in Gaza Field, and this supplemented and then replaced the stand-alone human rights curriculum. In 2016, Gaza elected its field-level student parliament for the first time. Student parliamentarians from Gaza represented UNRWA students in the United Nations General Assembly and the UNRWA Pledging Conference in New York in 2017 and 2018.

UNRWA is committed to ensuring that children are safe, protected and heard within schools and other UNRWA installations and the community at large. The Agency joined the international community in the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children and launched its own Agency-wide Addressing Violence Affecting, and Involving, Children (“AVAC”) initiative in 2016. The AVAC initiative fosters an enabling environment for children to live dignified lives, and advocates against violence against children — in all its forms. In Gaza, the Education Programme has implemented a number of interventions to make schools safer. Further awareness raising and communications material related to the prevention of VAC were printed and distributed in 2021, including the distribution of posters, banners, and stickers to UNRWA installations and community centers with key messages now accessible to staff, children and community members to address and raise awareness on the impact of violence against children.

As in all Fields, in UNRWA Gaza the host country curriculum is used and the UNRWA Curriculum Framework helps teachers to promote learning as emphasized and to support the review of materials in relation to key skills and competencies, UN values, and the Palestinian identity. With regards to any new textbooks introduced by the host authority and in addition to the regular reviews, a Rapid Review of textbooks is undertaken; this involves analyzing the textbooks for any issues of neutrality, gender equality, and age-appropriateness. In 2020/2021, education programme in Gaza has been adopting the Self-learning programme (SLP) as a response to the emergency created by COVID19 pandemic. The ultimate purpose is to secure valid, well-developed learning materials accessible during emergencies to ensure continuity of learning and during regular schooling to ensure ongoing support to the learners. Development of the self-learning materials (SLMs) is basically a collaborative involvement of both the field, the HQ, and the neutrality team. At the field level, the professional development and curriculum team worked collaboratively with the subject committees to review the self-learning cards (SLCs) components including the worksheets, the explainer videos and the electronic assessment sheets using the curriculum framework competencies, and the UN values and principles. The cards, then, are exposed to a Rapid Review that is attributed at two levels: field and agency. Once finalized, the card is cleared by the neutrality team and directly uploaded to become visible on UNRWA Digital Platform. In 2020/2021, the number of self-learning materials reviewed using UNRWA framework or Rapid Review was 4,016.

The professional development program of newly appointed teachers (NAT) is a qualification program for newly appointed teachers at UNRWA schools which developed to meet the professional needs of UNRWA teachers in the twenty-first century. Accordingly, the program is designed to entitle newly appointed UNRWA teachers who will successfully complete the program to eligibility to teach in UNRWA schools. As one of the last pillars of the UNRWA education reform strategy. This program aims to ensure that all UNRWA teachers have the knowledge, skills and concepts that will enable them to provide the best possible learning experience for each UNRWA school student.  All school specialists, school principals, deputy school principals, and 374 newly- appointed teachers started the program on October 2021, for (15) months.

The school's overall approach to critical thinking program aims to Introducing the concept of the school's overall approach to critical thinking. Approximately 618 coordinators of strategic units, educational specialists, school principals, deputy school principals, attended training that provided them with the necessary knowledge and skills to enable them to provide the best possible training and support to teachers, and ensuring the successful and effective implementation of the Handbook of Critical Thinking in the schools.

In 2021, the provision of inclusive, equitable, quality and safe education for Palestine refugee children remained a priority in Gaza despite the difficult circumstances with the COVID-19 pandemic, which challenged the education system on a global level. Delivery of education under such unusual circumstances was primarily achieved through the implementation of the Agency-wide EiE approach which was tailored to respond to the specific health and safety protocols. During the second half of 2021, education programme maintained a flexible approach in order to adjust to the challenges created by the pandemic, UNRWA delivered education through regular in-person approach under in-classroom learning environment, meanwhile, self-learning cards were made available on the UNRWA’s Digital Learning Platform. During 2021/2022 school year, the education programme response plans adopted four quarter scholastic year, two quarters for each semester. The idea was to have an independent quarter that allows for logical and coherent movement to the next coming learning materials in a way that helps students resume and continue constructive and coherent learning.

Youth in Gaza face high levels of unemployment and the UNRWA Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programme strives to enhance the skills and employability of young Palestine refugees by instructing young people in various technical and vocational skills. The poorest and most vulnerable students are targeted, with 1,816 training places for youth in vocational training centers in both Gaza VTC’s, where GTC which is the oldest vocational training institution in the Gaza Strip, founded in 1953 have 1,316 students and Khan Younis Training Centre (KYTC) which was established in 2007 have 500 trainees.

In addition, TVET provides many short-term courses training opportunities for youth to enhance their livelihoods opportunities with focus of digitalization skills. Life, entrepreneurship and freelancing skills are also developed to help students create job opportunities and find their way out of poverty for a decent life for themselves and their families.

The UNRWA Education programme in Gaza faces many challenges of unstable political and social environment, hard economic and social situation, and poverty and siege. The class size average of 41 students in UNRWA schools in Gaza is another concern and the external and the internal challenges together pose a risk to the commitment and motivation of education staff, as well as to the quality of UNRWA education services to Palestine refugee children in Gaza.