UNRWA Schools Win International Award for Excellence in Global Education

12 April 2021
The Chief of the Field Education Programme in Gaza, Farid Abu Athra, attends a virtual ceremony with the British Council during which certificates were awarded to winning teachers on 31 March 2021. © 2021 UNRWA Photo

Across the Middle East, UNRWA students are excelling in the classroom and building the skills they need to live out the UN values of neutrality, human rights, tolerance, equality and non-discrimination. Their success is being celebrated across borders -- this year, 45 UNRWA schools across the Gaza Strip and 14 in the West Bank have been named winners of the prestigious International School Awards.

Granted by the British Council, a UK-based organization specializing in international cultural and educational opportunities, the honor celebrates schools that are successfully preparing students to be responsible global citizens by embedding international education into their curriculums.

The award is part of its Connecting Classrooms program, which seeks to foster international literacy in participating schools’ curriculums so that young people gain the cultural understanding and skills they need for life work in today’s world. Award accreditation is achieved by schools that complete collaborative and curriculum-based projects and activities with a number of international partner schools across the Middle East, Asia, and/or the United Kingdom. Schools need to submit evidence of the impact of international strategies and activities and demonstrate the engagement of the school with international project activities. Evaluation takes approximately twelve months to complete and successful schools are accredited for three years.

Since 2014, UNRWA schools in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon have been recognized by the British Council for their excellence in international education.

“This marks a great achievement by UNRWA schools, at a time when our students and staff have been forced to adapt how they learn and teach due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Farid Abu Athra, Chief of the UNRWA education programme in Gaza. “Our schools have developed their own international policy to build on global citizenship and 21st century skills, working in collaboration with students in other countries on projects relating to cultural, environmental and global issues, all of which are in alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This distinction is only further evidence of the Agency’s commitment to quality education and universal values.”

2020 was an exceptional year for schools participating in the award accreditation process. At the start of the pandemic, schools were forced to suspend their respective International School Award programs due to the pandemic and switch to distance-learning. In August 2020, schools were able to resume work on their projects and, even in the different learning environment, received top recognition from ISA ambassadors.

The ISA ambassadors conducted the assessment virtually for 114 schools across the West Bank and Gaza using, for the first time, a digitized portfolio to complete and showcase their projects. The students’ projects covered topics such as cross-cultural curriculums, shared language, cultural issues, and historical sites, building on the UNRWA human rights, conflict resolution, and tolerance programme, which seeks to provide a human rights education that empowers some 532,000 Palestine refugee students to enjoy and exercise their rights, uphold human rights values, be proud of their Palestinian identity, and contribute positively to their society and the global community.

Eighth-grader Kawthar Khalil Mahmoud Shafi’i, who attends the girls school in Tulkarm, a city in the West Bank, says this experience pushed her and her fellow students to deepen their understanding of their community, and how they can work alongside people from other cultures: “This award strengthened our sense of citizenship and belonging, by allowing us to share activities with partner schools.”

Sherine Bader, a teacher from the same school, said that this award is a result of the hard work put in by the teachers and staff in the school, saying the experience “opens a window on different cultures and comprehensive educational practices in partner schools, both locally and internationally.”

By engaging in these projects, UNRWA students expand their understanding of other countries, cultures and languages, their confidence in communicating with people from different backgrounds, and the skills to successfully live and work in a global world.