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Education in the Gaza Strip
The UNRWA Education programme in Gaza is the largest of all UNRWA programmes in the five fields, serving 278,991 students (143,754 males and 135,237 females) from Grades 1-9 in the 2018/2019 school year. Students study in the 274 UNRWA schools across the Gaza Strip, of which 84 operate on a single shift basis, 177 on a double shift, and 13 schools on a triple shift, staffed by some 8,676 education personnel. In line with the trend in previous years, average class sizes in the 2018/2019 school year increased to 41.2 students compared to 39 students per class in the 2017/2018 school year. 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-centred society. In Gaza, the recurrent hostilities (2008/09, 2012 and 2014) have exacerbated the effects of the ongoing blockade, which is entered its thirteenth year in summer of 2019. 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.
A specific dimension of identifying and addressing student needs is with regards to the provision of psychosocial support. In this regard, and in line with the Psychosocial Support (PSS) Framework for UNRWA schools, Gaza field works diligently to promote the psychosocial well-being of all children. The recent demonstrations, which began on 30 March 2018 in the context of the Great March of Return (GMR) protests, have further exacerbated this need, with more than 29,000 people injured as of 22 March 2019 (according to figures of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA). Moreover, during this time period, Israeli security forces killed 195 Palestinians, including 41 children. Among these, UNRWA has documented the death of 13 UNRWA school students. These deaths and injuries strongly affect the emotional and psychosocial wellbeing of students, teachers, and their communities and, in some cases, create a challenge for some students in accessing or attending school. 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 programmes 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 5,152 UNRWA teachers in Gaza completed the SBTD I, and about 1,203 teachers the SBTD II programme by December 2018. Leadership practices are being strengthened through the Leading for the Future (LftF) programme, with 506 school principals and deputy school principals in Gaza having completed the LftF programme by December 2018.
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.
In line with the Agency’s policy of zero tolerance to violence, through the Agency-wide Addressing Violence Affecting Children (AVAC) Initiative, UNRWA launched a communications campaign in April 2019. An action plan involving all Gaza UNRWA field programmes and departments, which is aimed at preventing, responding to and ensuring accountability for cases of violence against children in UNRWA installations, was developed and is currently under implementation.
As in all Fields, in UNRWA Gaza the host country curriculum is used and the UNRWA Curriculum Framework helps teachers to promote learning as emphasised 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 analysing the textbooks for any issues of neutrality, gender equality, and age-appropriateness. During the 2018/2019 school year, a large number of textbooks were reviewed, as the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Education introduced new school textbooks. The textbooks were reviewed against the Rapid Review criteria to ensure that they align with UN values, and do not reflect bias of any kind. The UNRWA teachers in Gaza are being trained on the Teacher Centred Approach (TCA) - an approach that helps the teachers to address any potential issues of concern, identified in the textbooks.
Through its Education in Emergencies (EiE) programme, UNRWA helps to ensure that Palestine refugee children in Gaza can continue to access their right to quality, inclusive and equitable education, even in times of crisis and conflict. Here, the EiE response in Gaza prioritized the development of alternative learning programmes, including educational TV episodes and the UNRWA Interactive Learning Programme (ILP) website. Gaza Field Office is the home of UNRWA TV, an educational satellite channel that UNRWA launched in February 2012, which supports the learning of some quarter of a million children in Gaza. The channel - the first United Nations television channel of its sort in the Middle East - is a success story that was created and developed by UNRWA staff in Gaza. After reaching 100,000 subscribers, UNRWA TV YouTube channel was awarded the Silver Play Button, a YouTube Creator Award granted by Google to the most popular YouTube channels.
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 1,332 youth at the Gaza Training Centre (GTC), which is the oldest vocational training institution in the Gaza Strip, founded in 1953. 511 youth study at the Khan Younis Training Centre (KYTC) in southern Gaza, established in 2006. In addition, TVET provides around 300 short-term vocational training opportunities for schools’ lower achieving male and female students, followed with internships through projects. Life and entrepreneurship 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.
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